Wednesday, April 4, 2018

E is for Expresso #AtoZChallenge

My first cup of coffee whooshed out of a shiny machine that hissed, fizzed and whistled. Frothy clouds of steam jetted out from a spout I couldn't see. I was nine or ten and very short. 

A loud brass band was blaring out Bollywood tunes in the maidan (field) where the wedding celebrations were taking place. Uncles and aunties were dancing around brass trombones. Uncles were dancing by bending backwards precariously (sometimes losing their footing and coming too close to a drum stick in mid air, about to land on a drum or them) or kneeling on the dusty grass depending on how agile or old they were or perhaps how drunk. I didn't know at the time that uncles drank: I was born in a teetotaler family and the only alcohol we saw as permissible and safe was a bottle of brandy which came out every winter. A couple of times in December or January, we were given a disgustingly bitter spoonful of brandy with warm water. Of course, a spoon full of khund (raw sugar) would follow. Drunk uncles used to be just funny uncles till they told me that it was the dreaded drink that made them funny. That piece of information turned those funny uncles into people one needed to avoid at weddings and gatherings.

The auntyjis were also dancing around the band and while some were just shuffling their feet to pretend they were part of the happy party, others were in their element: fixing their falling saree pallas while managing a thumka or two while ordering their brood to go eat dinner. All this while keeping a keen eye on their respective husbands (the backward bending unclejis) lest they follow a better looking auntyji home. 

I had planted myself next to the coffee stall at the wedding party. I was going to have my first coffee (mine and not shared) today.

"Bahiya... ek expresso." I asked for a cup.

The maker of coffee served about three adults who came to the counter after me before he fizzed up a white china cup for me. I could see the top of the cup from where I was standing. Its froth jigged a bit as he sprinkled chocolate powder on top. Something must've gotten stuck because he banged the steel beaker with holes on top which he was using to sprinkle the chocolate on my cup of coffee, against the counter. It banged dully, through the stiffly starched table cloth and a split second later, started raining a mini chocolate shower on the froth.

He placed a saucer under the cup and placed it (with some force I thought) on the aluminum tray that was lying next to the big steel coffee machine. Rings and spills of previous coffee cups had made little puddles in the tray so that when I picked up my cup and saucer, a few drops of the tray residue fell on my brand new frock. I had to hold the saucer carefully with both my hands to keep the froth intact. I wanted to lick it all myself. I didn't want a single molecule of it to escape and drop on the saucer or my hands. So I decided to think about the drops that had obviously stained my frock later and just focus on walking up to a chair with my coffee and drink it.

Everything zoned out: the music, the crowd, the family, everything. My first cup --all by myself , not sips from Mummy's or Daddy's, no sir, my very own cup of expresso (yes, that's exactly how I called it-- ex-press-o)

First, I licked the tiny chocolate blobs with the tip of my tongue, then I slurped the froth. I kept rotating the cup to make sure the froth was being licked equally from all sides. Soon, a little coffee moon appeared in the middle of the cup. It was very tiny and little bubbles of froth were surrounding it like an eager crowd. I took a big sip.

Ah! Too Hot!

The top of my mouth and the back of my throat smarted with the scalding coffee but it didn't matter. 

'Ffu...ffuu...ffooo..' I blew into the cup. 

The tiny coffee moon got bigger, the bubbles danced away from my breath and little by little, the coffee cooled as I sipped. It was sweet like nectar and the burnt mouth would lie forgotten that night when I would end up back at the coffee stand for another cup.

Only next morning I'll tell my mother that I won't be able to drink any tea because, 'mera talu jal gaya kal.' (I burnt my mouth yesterday.)

Years later, I will find out that my expresso is actually a cappuccino and that in fact it's correct pronunciation is espresso.

And you can imagine the shock I got when I ordered my first espresso at Waterloo station and received the tiniest cup of beverage I'd ever seen! I had paid almost 2 pounds for that drop of liquid! The year was 1992 and I was converting pounds into rupees all the time. I could've bought an entire outfit from a patri (road side stalls) in Janpath or Sarojini Nagar for the price of four drops of coffee!

I miss my cup with froth and chocolate dust:the kind one used to get at Indian wedding celebrations in the 70s and the 80s, the kind that almost always burnt your impatient tongue, the kind that whooshed out of a shiny machine that hissed and spluttered steam and foam. 
******
How do you like your coffee?

And just in case you've not come across an Indian wedding brass band, here's a melodious example:
They are playing an old and popular Hindi film song which was released in 1963.
Tradition lives on in tubas:

25 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    Am allergic to coffee - sets off the asthma and don't sleep for a week. Even have to be careful that I take tea only in the morning. My room at Sandeepany (Powai-Mumbai) was beside the entry road to the neigbouring, high-society hotel and not a week went by without a wedding procession going on. Quite the cacophony! Wonderful, life-affirming stuff.

    Our perception of weddings and 'funny' uncles matches though. Think this is a global thing!!! YAM xx

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    1. Global 'funny' uncles has a nice ring to it:)
      I, on the other hand, can go to sleep straight after drinking a double espresso.

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  2. I also remember my very fist cup of coffee. I was told by my uncle (not funny; at least not that day!) that grown people should drink the coffee without sugar. So I did. More than 30 years later, I still drink my coffee without any sugar. Actually, I hate sugar on coffee! :)

    When I came to live in Morocco, I was surprised to discover that small children drink coffee often.

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    1. Hey Eva. It's good to see you here. I like my coffee without sugar too:)

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  3. Oh, I love this shaadi wali coffee! I remember, as kids, we used to line up near this coffee stall and have our own cup of coffee. The first sip always scalded the tongue, but we all loved it. Somehow, that coffee could never be recreated at home and it was much later in MBA hostel days we learnt to beat coffee. Ah! Some memories. I love cappuccino and cafe latte the most though I love my tea in equal measure.
    A to Z of Travel Essentials You Need for Your Holidays #AtoZChallenge

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    1. Beating coffee to get the frothy shaadi wali coffee was a weekend ritual at home. My sister and I did it often and loved it. Hostel corridors after dinner would be dotted with girls beating coffee while taking breaks from studying. Haven't done it in a while now. I'm a die hard espresso (double espresso) fan. Of course, tulsi and adrak ki chai reigns supreme in our kitchen.

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  4. How beautifully told, Arti. I was enjoying the froth right along with you (in spite of not liking coffee). When I was growing up, coffee was only for adults. Children were told it would stunt our growth and we all wanted to grow so we avoided it. By the time I was an adult and tried it, I disliked the flavor. No amount of sugar nor cream could improve it enough for me to drink. I stick to tea.

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    1. Thank you for your comment Emily. It's warmed the cockles of my writer heart:)
      Tea is my first choice too, but a well made espresso is also welcome.

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  5. You conjured up so well that milky cup of espresso.

    http://www.kalpanaawrites.com

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  6. I usually drink tea with milk and no sugar but I like my coffee with milk and sugar and froth. My mother used to let my sister and I have a cup of coffee from the thermos when we drove for 4 hours to my uncles cottage in the woods from Detroit. It had lots of milk (evaporated) and sugar. And we loved it.
    http://findingeliza.com/

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    1. Hi Kristin. Thank you for visiting. Your mom's coffee sounds a lot like the one I remember from my childhood-milky and super sweet. Love the image of driving to the woods with a coffee stop. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. I like my coffee medium roast made strong, cream and sugar - with the occasional bit of froth.
    (BG teases, "have some coffee with your milkshake" - but I'm really not that heavy-handed with the sugar. I'll gloss over the cream part...)

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    1. This reminds me of something my father-in-law reminisces about (he LOVES sugar). Apparently, when they were growing up, 50-60 years ago, they'd ask for 'spoon-standing-upright-tea' which means there was so much sugar at the bottom of the cup that a spoon would stand up straight! My head hurts just imagining such a concoction!

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  8. I got to watch my bf try his first ever cup of coffee... in Italy. It was that tiny cup of deadly strong dark coffee they have. He has not had another cup of coffee before or since :D

    The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

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    1. I've become a fan of that deadly strong coffee as I've grown in years:) I only miss sugary coffee in nostalgia. In real life, I like it bitter and strong.

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  9. This song is quite an old song, heard it as a child and nice to hear after so many years of my life. I used to love coffee with milk and sugar, but have given up now, and occasionally I drink in a meeting or conference..

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    1. Thank you for visiting Angela. Yes, it's an old song and I was happy to find it on You tube, too.

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  10. I am a not coffee fan but loved your post. :) best wishes!!

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  11. What a wonderful memory - and I loved the peek into wedding celebration. I'm definitely a cappuccino fan - I do enjoy the frothy foam.

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    1. Indian weddings are noisy and fun and full of food and drinks:)

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  12. A vivid and beautiful memory. Oh your cappucino sounds so tasty I think Ill have of my very own.
    Cheers!

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    1. Hope you managed to enjoy your cappuccino Leslie. Cheers for dropping by.

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  13. Neither an espresso fan nor cappuccino (unless it’s an iced cappuccino). We Canadians are very fond of ‘Tim Hortons’ coffee (Canadian’s Favorite coffee shop) that is dotted at every nook and corner in the town but ‘adrakhvali’ chai is our morning ritual with lots of chai masala to keep us warm for cold Canadian winters. Loved the narrative of your story. I don’t remember espresso or coffee ever being served in gujarati weddings. Thank you for this clip, brought in flood of memories. The song is from movie ‘Sehra’ a creations of an ingenious producer V. Shantaram.

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