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Sometimes I wonder how come South Indians, particularly Tamilians, get hooked on to coffee so bad. We love coffee, and love to yap about coffee (like I am about to). We are in general very finicky about the taste of our coffee, and very stingy with our coffee ratings. These characteristics seem magnified among South Indians in the US, i.e. my kind. This is mostly about that kind.

Before I begin I must note this: I see a disturbing trend among youngsters from Tamil Nadu. They are not drinking coffee because (gasp!) they don’t like it . Some of them prefer (gasp! gasp!) Tea, and some prefer just milk (what the ?). Parents – please respect our traditions! Raise your kids the proper South Indian way so that they don’t end up like these!

I think I can say that most South Indians are in general stingy with money too. However, you see pretty much all of them hooked on to the trendy coffee shops i.e. Starbucks Coffee and its brethren – the modern success story on “How to repackage and market an age-old product and rip-off everyone”. When it comes to coffee all the South Indian stinginess is gone. We readily shell out $2.75 or so for a Cappuccino or Latte. For those in US, you know that means slightly more expensive than a decent lunch at Taco Bell!

So you pay $2.75 for a drink that comes in a cup that looks fairly large. But the first time you hold the cup, you know something is wrong – it is feather light. You soon realize that of course this is because 75% of the cup is foam and there is only 25% of coffee (albeit strong). But it’s dressed up in a cool sounding foreign name, sold in a classy joint, and we Indians (mua included of course) can’t seem to see through the charade. At least in Europe, they play it straight – teeny weeny amount of coffee comes in a teeny-weeny cup with a teeny-weeny handle. I suspect that Europeans raise their kids the “right way”- since the handles on the coffee cups seem appropriate for a five year old.

Anyway, I don’t get the point of this foam business. It is fluff and only for look. To generate more of it, Starbucks etc. use cold milk – which of course brings the temperature of the coffee down. That is a big no-no for the South Indian coffee palette. Worse – the foam takes up most of the cup, and so end up with mostly looks and little substance. But the looks apply only if you are drinking the coffee at the store itself out of a regular cup where at least you can see the foam. But most people take it “to go”, and the fluff is completely hidden by the cup. So unless you plan to practice for an audition for those “Got Milk?” commercials, you are getting ripped off badly. You are paying a lot for fluff which has little to no taste, is not even visible, and has the potential of making you look silly if you are not careful. But it is indeed marketing genius at work as even the smart, thrifty Indian continues to get fooled.

The South Indian home brew:
The South Indian in US is usually proud of his coffee at home. When you make a new acquaintance with an Indian friend, it is not uncommon for him to brag about how strong the coffee he makes at his home is, and how close to authentic Indian it is etc. He usually offers his coffee with the proud statement You cannot get real coffee like this anywhere else. Most of us Indian coffoholics are constantly looking to come with a US brew that is closest to what we have in India. I have searched high and low and finally settled on this: Melitta Classic Brand only. This is 100% Arabica – this is important for me. Three scoops for just 1 cup and only brewed in a small coffee maker (i.e. 4-cup capacity). This makes a super strong “decoction” an absolute necessity for South Indian style coffee.

It is strong, smells divine and is quite good. One puzzler though is that it tastes divine at 7 AM, the exact same brew tastes quite ordinary at 3 PM. Somehow my taste buds seem to behave differently between mornings and afternoons.
I brag about my home coffee brew. I serve it to my friends. They all seem to like it – but I wonder if they are just being polite, and are really thinking This sucks. This guy doesn’t have a clue about strong Indian style coffee. He should come to my home!

Of course, the fall back to reality is when I visit Chennai and take that very first cup of coffee made by mom (as soon as I arrive of course). I take the first sip and I go – Now. This is coffee. I have been drinking crap in the US.