Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Flat White with two, please

I've never been a coffee drinker. (Or a tea drinker for that matter, but that's a different story… featuring the monsoons, masala chai and hot kandha bhajiyas). Growing up, tea was a part of breakfast and was defined – in my mind at least – as the default beverage to dunk your bread-and-butter/jam/roastbeef* in. Coffee replaced tea once a month or so, just to break the monotony for a day. Now, this coffee was always instant - Nescafe types, au lait and with sugar. Studying for standard X and XII exams, while others used coffee to stay up late, I actually opted for a Thums Up. I don’t think anyone really believed it was helping… but I had a right to be pampered… and I liked Thums Up. Working in India and the US, I never cared for coffee. Except on my first job, where tea/coffee coupons were slimily baked into my salary package and I felt obliged to drink up. The bloody coupons were probably half my salary anyways.

So it’s been established that I’ve neither felt the need nor understood the fascination for the drink. Cut to Sydney, winter of 2007, and perceptions start to change. Nothing dramatic. I still don’t need one, but the social aspect of meeting over a cuppa is pretty neat. I’m quite taken up with the idea of enjoying a leisurely conversation in a tiny café, outdoors preferred, banana muffin optional. Or a short walk, in the middle of the ‘slothy’ part of the afternoon, to grab one with a colleague – no better way to keep your pulse on who’s banging whom in the office. Well, maybe a drink at the pub after work might beat a coffee. But not by much.

Coffee’s also taken more seriously in Sydney than in other places I’ve lived in. Which isn’t saying much considering I’ve only lived in Bombay and a couple of cities in the US. Still. Here, a coffee machine in the office is a gleaming, complex piece of machinery that I couldn’t hope to master. Nor do I want to. It takes you, like, two hours to make yourself a cup; it’s easier to befriend the two or three baristas on the floor that can brew the perfect cup. In the US office, the coffee machine is a percolator that spits out mud-water. The Indian office has a machine with buttons labelled “Cappucino”, “Mochachino”, “Strawberry Milk”, and “Tomato Soup”. It uses powdered milk – ‘nuf said. In the US, coffee’s a toss-up between Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s. Blah! In Sydney, there are loads of coffee franchises, most folks have their favourite café and Starbucks is the pariah of the coffee-drinking world. What’s more: a coffee’s reasonably priced (compared to the … ummm… rest of the commodity spectrum).

I wrote all of this up after a flat-white with my cubicle-mate. And as I near the end, I’m reminded that coffee also totally kills my appetite, leaving me with the suspicion that it’s burning holes in my stomach. But boy was the office gossip worth it!

*Yes, I have been known to dunk my bread-and-roastbeef sandwiches in tea. It’s delicious. Get over it!

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