I’m sure readers will recall a time when it was virtually impossible to find a decent cup of coffee in most establishments north of the Vindhyas. Coffee then was virtually synonymous with Nescafe — instant powdered sludge that passed off as the real thing for generations of Indians who knew no better.
Of course, the South has had a long and proud tradition of imbibing strong, aromatic filter coffee that is prepared in a percolator and served piping hot, inexplicably in a steel tumbler that scalds your fingers.
But for the rest of India, the coffee revolution came about only rather recently with the advent of chain stores that encashed on the enormous popularity of American sitcoms such as Friends and Frasier. Indians, particularly the urban youth, suddenly discovered the joys of sipping Cappuccino, Latte, Macchiato and Espresso and realised that it was really quite cool to bond over a cup of freshly brewed java rather than a beer.
These chain stores also started selling coffee-making paraphernalia, as also quality beans — both imported and local — like the delectable Peaberry and Highland variety, which is grown in south India.
One of the most effective ways of brewing a great cup at home is doing it the authentic Italian way, with a stovetop espresso maker. This ingeniously simple device requires you to fill in water at the base, top up the perforated mid-level funnel with coarsely ground coffee powder and then let it simmer on slow flame for a few minutes. The heated water turns to steam and rushes up a nozzle to finally emerge and cool in the top chamber as fresh aromatic coffee.
Purists often regard the French Press or cafetière as the most effective way to brew a flavourful cup of coffee and it is also by far the easiest. Simply spoon in some freshly ground coffee powder into the glass chamber and add hot, never boiling, water. Stir and then leave to steep for five minutes. Then slowly press down on the plunger to extract a superbly invigorating cup. Connoisseurs will quibble about the need to use a gold-plated plunger to ensure the finest extraction but a steel one is perfectly adequate for most enthusiasts.
There are now a multitude of coffee makers available in India. I recently purchased a very nifty, retro looking Espresso machine that has an old-style pressure gauge and toggle switches. One can now whip up a perfectly professional espresso shot, with the crema on top, within seconds at home.
If grinding your own beans and labouring over a stove is not your idea of fun, you can always pop into an international café recently opened with great fanfare in India. Just be warned that no self-respecting coffee snob would be caught dead in a Starbucks.