Unless you live in south India, where coffee is grown, it’s a nightmare getting a decent cup. It shouldn’t be, because India grows plenty of coffee, of which, three are specialty coffees: Monsoon Malabar, Mysore Nugget Extra Bold (MNEB) and Robusta Kapi Royal. OK, so you’ve heard the age old argument that arabicas are inherently better than robustas, but in India, that wisdom is turned on its head: though both Monsoon Malabar and MNEB are arabicas, the most sought after Indian coffee is the humble robusta. You can’t get hold of Kapi Royal unless you’re prepared to take possession of 500 kgs, and pay for it in US $.
The coffees of each country collectively tend to have a single top note, in much the same as wines do. Indian coffee is said to have spicy highlights, not surprising, as coffee is grown in spice plantations. Coffee is blended and roasted in countries that actually drink coffee, as opposed to countries that grow the bean.
There are four ways that you can enjoy your cup of coffee, and no, we’re not referring to that lowly beverage called instant coffee, with or without powder milk.
The first (or second, depending on your perspective) is espresso. It’s a 30 ml shot of dark perfection, topped by a millimeter of crema. It can only be made in an espresso machine, which are not exactly cheap. Basically, hot water (94 degrees Centigrade) is pushed at a pressure of 10 bar through 7-8 grams of ground coffee beans. The resultant elixir is espresso. Because it’s such a tiny drink, the blend has to be perfect: it must have body, aroma, viscosity and acidity (how much or how little is personal preference). The roast has to be dark – what in the trade is known as Vienna or Italian.
Drinkers of single origin coffees would automatically go for the French press or plunger. It’s the simplest contraption in the world. Just fill with coffee – as weak or strong as you like, top up with boiling water, leave to distill for 3-4 minutes and press the plunger down. Aficionados of this type of coffee talk endlessly about the bloom of the brew – the fresher the coffee bean, the thicker the sediment on top – and the greater the resistance of the coffee when the plunger is pushed. Just as it is pointless to drink an espresso blend from a French press, it is a waste to imbibe Brazilian coffee from an espresso machine.
The third type of coffee machine is the drip filter in which the freshly ground beans are piled in a cone of filter paper and hot water is poured on it over a period of time. It’s the principle of South Indian filter coffee, without the filter paper. This type is used by people who like their coffee with milk.
Other ways of making coffee – by boiling water in a saucepan over the fire and adding coffee, the antediluvian electric percolator, even the quintessentially Italian stove top espresso machine – are all history.