Coffee is truly ubiquitous and seemingly unbeatable at its own game, boosting morales era after era, says Lakshmi Dasaka
Have you heard the story of mystic rituals, goats and Sufi saints? If you have, you are well aware of the mystic powers of coffee. However, if you have not, let me take you on a time travel trip.
It is the 11th century and goat herders in Ethiopia drink a concoction with magical properties made of leaves of this tree that has cherry-like fruit. This fruit travels to Yemen via Sufi monks and becomes the most sought-after commodity from their monasteries. It spreads across the Ottoman empire despite the Sultan decreeing death to coffee drinkers, and although Western medicine initially acts apprehensive, coffee takes over most of Europe. The storming of the Bastille gets planned in a Parisian café house and leads to the French Revolution. Paris, London, and Vienna become the centres of café culture in the 17th and 18th century nurturing the ideas of artistes, thinkers, philosophers, and revolutionaries such as Rosseau, Isaac Newton, and Ernest Hemingway ever since. In the 20th century, this brew helps industrial workers work better and rightfully comes to be known as the lubricant of the human machine, coined by William H Ukers, the founder of the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal.
Coffee makes its way into India with Baba Budan, a 15th century Sufi, and makes its home quite comfortably in the Western Ghats and Tamil Nadu, generating cultural rituals with various brewing techniques unique to the Indian consumer.
The rich dark liquid and modern India
Coffee, until recently, was the undercurrent of the Indian experience despite India being the sixth largest coffee producer and fifth-largest exporter in the world. Indian coffee houses of the majoritarian tea-drinking country were instrumental in the Indian freedom struggle, especially in Mumbai and Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta). They threw off the British stronghold on the coffee trade along with racial discrimination asserting Indianness to coffee. The frothy filter coffee of South India gains a special mention to prove the presence of coffee fanatics in India.
Modern coffee chains mushrooming across the country, over the past decade, have seen coffee lovers come out of the shadows and have attracted a young demographic by making coffee a thing of quiet democratic luxury. The focus is sharp on self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs, creating customer experiences that are unique to coffee drinkers. The beverage is expertly adapted to the modern work culture being a common and popular feature both in-office breaks and in the absence of a physical work environment, as evident from the Dalgona phenomenon of last year. It is now engaging with an even more dynamic generation, Gen Z. A young and stressed India finds its escape in a mugful that validates their hustle as well as allowing them to hit the pause button.
Is it healthy though?
This stimulating and uplifting drink has been found to have several health benefits from being hydrating to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Recent studies even go so far as to suggest that the habit of drinking coffee can keep you from suffering heart complications. Besides, it is a well-known antioxidant and diuretic.
The new coffee wave
In 2020, Indians consumed over 1,170,000 of 60 kg bags of coffee. This number stands testament to the growing love for coffee that is undeterred by the pandemic. A social structure built around coffee continues to influence business and personal relations. In-person coffee sessions have moved online, and coffee accompanies all conversations on social media from music to podcast with coffee live sessions and streams. Coffee to this day affects all facets of life and is a quick energy fix for the needs of the WFH lifestyle. Everyday coffee break rooms at the virtual workplace are even a matter of policy.
Undoubtedly, coffee is truly ubiquitous and seemingly unbeatable at its own game, boosting morals era after era. It must be true what they say: Humanity does run on coffee!
(The writer is the co-founder of Slay Coffee)