It wakes us up first thing in the morning, gives us a boost in the afternoon, and provides a much-needed jolt in the evening for a seemingly endless night of paper-writing. It's part of our culture, to rush from class to class with a cup of coffee from Starbucks or the local coffee shop around the corner. It's an indication that we've worked hard, that we're tired, but we're still chugging along (with the help of coffee, of course).
A certain culture has grown around college students and coffee. Not only is it a fundamental part of many students' daily lives, but the coffee shop itself is also a significant location. It's a place where people socialize, on a first date or in larger groups. It's also a place to break out a laptop or a textbook to study and or hammer out the last few pages of a paper due at midnight. You come into a coffee shop with the expectation that you can get your drink to go for that next lecture in five minutes, also knowing that you could also just skip that lecture and spend a few hours sipping a latte and reading the lecture slides instead.
This is what coffee culture means to the four of us on Team Be Well. As it was with pretty much everything else, I didn't know what to expect with coffee in India, but I had harbored a tiny hope that it wouldn't be much different. There are many special memories associated with coffee for me, that I subconsciously hoped that it would be something that I could turn to when I was missing home.
But that was not to be the case.
Coffee shops are mostly sit-down
Which is fine. I like a good coffee shop in which I can sit down and relax. But in India, this also means a waiter will take your order at your table and bring the coffee to you. Obviously this is different from the standard Starbucks or almost any other coffee shop in the U.S., and it took some getting used to, but I admit that it's nice at least not having to listen for your name to be called before grabbing your drink at the bar. That said, sometimes I just want to get my own coffee, thank you very much.
Coffee in India takes time
A majority of the places that we've gone to that serves coffee will take at least fifteen minutes to serve. At first this was frustrating, because there were times that we needed a caffeine boost before a meeting that was to start in 20 minutes. We would rush in, make our order at the counter, and then wait for what seems like an eternity for our drinks to be ready. I think it's part of the whole culture that coffee shops in India are places that you go to in order to sit and stay a while, therefore not having much need for a fast-paced environment in which drinks are churned out in less than five minutes. Maybe this is good? After the last two years it's about time that we are forced to slow down and relax, even if it's for a caffeine boost.
"Are you sure you don't want sugar? Just black?"
Yes, I know exactly what I want. I personally usually drink my coffee black, and sometimes with milk if it's available. I have never added sugar to my coffee, and if I were to consider doing so, it would not be nearly as much as they add here in India. Like many other foods, Madras filter coffee, the local coffee drink served in south India, is incredibly sweet (at least it would seem that way for someone who usually drinks it black). When I first arrived in India, I was very adamant about drinking my coffee black and had to explicitly as for "black coffee, no sugar...yes, no sugar." At the first non-Starbucks coffee shop in Bangalore that we went to, I was even warned that espresso was a drink served in a small cup and was very bitter. Now, I've gotten used to the Madras filter coffee and the process of pouring it between two metal cups. It's still very sweet, but I'm not sure it's something I can sustain for very long. (With every sip of the sugary drink, I constantly tell myself that this is why diabetes is so high in India.) At the more western coffee shops like Cafe Coffee Day, Coffee Central, or Hot Breads (coincidentally, our three favorite places for coffee), I'll be more likely to order an Americano. For these three months, it's a compromise I'm willing to make.
Coffee shops don't open until 11am
How's a girl supposed to start her day when every coffee shop doesn't open until long after the work day has started? Of course, this is me imposing my western culture and expectations on India, which is unfair and uncalled for. Yet, there are so many mornings when I wish Cafe Coffee Day would open by 8am so that I could grab a drink on the way to work. But this is the way it is and after almost two and a half months, we're used to it by now.
All that said...
I think I'm finally used to the coffee culture here. I understand that it is a combination of western and Indian culture and that what exists in the U.S. cannot and should not be replicated in India. This summer has been an exciting experience learning about what the coffee culture is like and participating in it. Of course, I'm still super excited to check out the Starbucks that just opened in Chennai....