Tea or coffee?

“Er—”

As a lover of both, it’s one of the biggest dilemmas I face in a gathering. Most people are either tea drinkers or coffee fanatics. I understand that. However, I come from a long history of tea estate owners and workers who used to wake up to the decadent smell of dewy tea leaves outside their windows, and who washed down their morning carbohydrates with a steaming pot of black tea. To say I’m a tea lover is like saying the Joker is eccentric. It’s moot.

That said, I also partly come from a society that relies on the laxative power of coffee to kickstart their day and metabolism. A hot cup of flutter coffee infused with sugar and milk is the stable beverage of a typical south Indian household.

And so when choosing one, I struggle like a mother being forced to choose between husband and child. While the former leads to the discovery of the other, the other only increases her passion for the first.

I like tea. I like coffee. And I always struggle to choose between the two.

So for a long time, I made a compromise in such a way that I give both of them equal importance in my life. Instant black coffee served as the first dregs of fuel for my engine, kicking off the day, whereas a cup of tea became my standard breakfast. Afternoons were dedicated to either lemon tea or black filtered coffee, depending on the weather, while the other one became my regular dinnertime beverage. Some days lemon tea went with lunch and some days with dinner. Either way, I was sure to get enough of both in a day.

Then I went to Melbourne for the first time, the coffee capital of Australia. It offered me some of the best-tasting coffees I’ve had in my life. Not to mention affordable, even in the central business district (CBD). However, that wasn’t the most noteworthy thing about Melbourne. Aside from the impeccable coffee, I discovered a strange thing called dirty chai.

Dirty chai with cinnamon topping - Melbourne

One of my American colleagues (who was visiting Australia) introduced me to the miracle that is the dirty chai. I had no idea that you could mix tea and coffee and end up with a concoction so addictive and mesmerising that it’s unbelievable it’s not more prevalent.

Yet, there it was—a simple brew of stewed tea leaves and a shot of espresso, melded to create a beverage that not only thrills the tastebuds but also satisfies, satiates, the penduluming soul of the tea-coffee lover.

It’s one of the many reasons to love Melbourne. It has such good coffee that it transforms a plain chai into a dirty chai that you’d love to cuddle between your palms, taking in one of the world’s best fusion creations.

Ah, coffee

I’ve already written about my experiences with Australian prices. When I first arrived, I spent hours walking down supermarket aisles, monitoring, comparing in my head, how much each product costs in various stores.

Although it’s waned over the last few months, the habit has stayed with me.

That’s why when I heard a small cup of flat white with almond milk and an extra shot costs $5.20, I had a hard time masking my bitch face. I swallowed the anger that rose to my lips and smiled instead. Thank you for such unfairness.

$5.20 isn’t a lot of money, I admit. But it’s still a lot for a not-so-great coffee in a not-so-big-enough cup. And yet, I’ve noticed that it’s the standard in most places in Canberra.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Melbourne.

For $4.50, I got a much bigger cup of more satisfying coffee. And I fell in love with Melbourne. Well, not just because of the coffee, but it sure helped.

That said, even in Melbourne, alternative milks and extra shots of espresso cost an additional 50 cents each. Some places dare go even further and charge anything between 80 cents and a dollar. 

And that’s on top of the standard price of a coffee.

I couldn’t comprehend the reasoning behind it. I don’t even think there is a reasoning. Of course, almond milk is more expensive than regular cow’s milk, but that doesn’t justify charging extra over a commodity I didn’t ask for.

I could, for the sake of an argument, dissect the price points of each element that goes into a flat white and evaluate the fairness of the price. But that’ll get me nowhere.

So I chose to rant here instead.

In all honesty though, this elevated coffee prices has made me appreciate it more than ever. Now getting a coffee outside is special. It’s not the kind of pick-me-up you associate with takeaway cups and Hollywood heroins in a rush. Coffee means proper coffee, and that means treating it with the respect it deserves—savouring every sip as it travels down my throat.

To me you are,

Have you ever washed a coffee plunger?

The jug is the easy part. The filter, however, is a wet mess of clingy dregs that’ve made their way into the tiniest of pores, overstaying their welcome like guests who’d muddied your carpets, who’d forgotten what cleanup meant, or how to spot the puddles of molten wax on your table cloth.

Like the soothing trickle of coffee embalming sanity on dry days, the aftermath of coffee also stays with you. Look at that filter. Really. Look at it, the triangular spaces of mesh running underneath the metal that holds it together. See the spring around it and the leftovers of your medium, double-roasted finely ground comforter. Good luck rinsing it out.

Then flip the filter over, and raise eyebrows at the stains, the tell tale signs of your addiction. Scrub it, harder and harder, and you’ll wish you hadn’t clipped your nails that morning. And when you’re done, when the lemony foam washes away in the steaming water foaming your glasses, you’ll see, like a curious case of cavities on clean teeth, that stains remain.

Honey, you are coffee to me.


This piece was published in the Elephants Never magazine. One of the rare occasions in which someplace other than my own blog houses my ramblings. Check out out here: https://elephantsnever.com/to-me-you-are/

Good day

“Have a good day” the little girl chirped as she left the counter slurping her large iced coffee. She’d smiled as she said it. As if she’d meant it.

Pfft, Jeremy thought to himself. It was only midday, and he’s had thousands of people wishing him a good day already. It no longer felt sincere—most people wouldn’t even look him in the eye. They’d bring their haul tapping their card on the counter while waiting for him to finish billing. And as soon as the machine’s ready for their card, they’d swipe it and out without so much as a second glance at him. Then waving off their receipt, “good day” they’d mutter before pulling out their phone and exiting the store.

He’d been the cashier at the gas station for seven years now. Ever since the nasty divorce, he’d been trying to find alternative ways to support himself. Although his pension covered the basics, his severed leg needed additional medication and constant care.

It didn’t matter whether the girl meant it or not. As long as he had the job, it was a good day for him.