Coffee

Latte

A shot and some cream,
their fates twisted together—
yin and yang of life.

Coffee traditions

Over the weekend, I volunteered at the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra. In its 24th year and my first, it was such good experience to be part of the three-day extravaganza.

Of the many highlights, was a small cup of Greek coffee.

Standing outside the Greek food stall, I stared at the sign that said “Traditional Greek coffee, boiled in a briki.”

Italicised and unpronounceable means that it’s traditional, right?

Eliopite, a Crypriot olive pastry and Greek coffee
Eliopite, a Crypriot olive pastry, and Greek coffee

It wasn’t anything groundbreaking though—just regular black coffee—the same thing I drink everyday: fine-ground coffee powder boiled in water, served steaming hot.

Although it was neither authentic nor imported from Greece, it was unlike any I’ve had. It was stronger, and without the strange sourness of instant black coffee.

The best thing about the festival is that I could watch (gawk at) Greeks doing the Zorba dance (such grace!) and then later talk to a woman about the tradition that’s Greek coffee.

Much like the Turkish, Serbian, Armenian, Cypriot, and Bosnian coffee, the Greek version is also boiled in a tall metal pot called, that’s right, a briki. The coffee isn’t filtered and so when I received the cup with gracious thanks, masking my disbelief at the smallness of the serving, the dregs swirled around, rapidly gaining weight, sinking to the depths of the cup’s under world.

Saying that it’d take a while for the grounds to settle, the woman advised me to drink it slow and warned not to drink the “mud”.

The reason?

In Greece, once people finish their coffee, they turn the cup over and read dregs—much like tea leaf reading in many real and imagined cultures.

Because it’s so hot, the coffee promotes conversations in social events. Greek coffee is an accompaniment for afternoon(ish) tea gatherings. Not a bad thing—forcing people to talk to each other while waiting for the damn coffee to cool down. That would’ve prevented people from chugging it and rushing away from over inquisitive aunts and uncles.

Clearly, this all before the mobile phone era. Then again, aren’t most traditions?

Appreciation

Greek coffee at the National Multicultural Festival
Greek coffee, National Multicultural Festival

Breathe, take a moment,
sip, and savour what you have—
love life like coffee.

Hits you

Espresso - Lonsdale Street Roasters, Canberra
Lonsdale Street Roasters, Canberra

Sniping away sleep,
not a shadow of remorse—
espresso, clean shot.

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.