It’s an irony, how so many things in the twenty first century classify as basics, and yet how very few things are basic requirements by nature. Air, water, food , shelter, education, employment, internet. Sure. Add coffee to that list as well.
“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup”
― Gertrude Stein
PS. I’m a sworn coffee drinker. But I’m going to assume that the feelings for chai are mutual and make room for the chai lovers in this post.
C for Chai-Coffee Around The World
Whoever said, “A lot can happen over coffee…” was telling us all about the secret of the universe. That morning cuppa is such an everyday essential for most of us, often extending to multiple cups through a day. Not too surprisingly, we tend to take it for granted. We know we need it, we want it, but it’s such a regular part of our lives that we barely ever account for it. But here’s the universal truth. Anything can happen over a cup of coffee, anything. And that’s the beauty of it.
I make through twenty fours, with the support of at least three big mugs of coffee. Three big mugs of magic. Apart from all the energy and creative juices flowing, I have proof of the magic. In the list of A to Z of things we love about travel, C stands for Chai-Coffee, the constant through all our journeys.
The Chai-Coffee Culture
One may wonder, what is so special about a regular cup of coffee while traveling across scenic and culturally rich destinations. Isn’t that cuppa just a regular cuppa? Of course, it is. But even a regular cup of chai-coffee for centuries now has been the starting point of social revolutions. Chai (Tea)- Coffee are known as industrial drinks. For centuries, chai-coffee have been the fuel of the working class, the artists and the thinkers. Vienna’s Kaffeehaus Kultur, India’s ‘Chai Pe Charcha’ or the ‘Chaupal’ system were all fueled by these beverages. Chai-coffee was just an excuse for people to take a break from their work and gather to discuss the latest affairs. In Vienna’s Kaffeehaus Kultur, imperialistic kaffeehauses attracted the likes of thinkers, artists, scientists and political commentators to gather over endless cups of coffee while being engaged in intellectual discussions, reading and spending time with one self. The English High Tea sessions were a high-society equivalent of this culture. The coffee culture traveled far and wide, taking a localized form in different parts of the world. This culture exists even today, partly in the form of remote working from coffee shops across cities.
Grabbing a cup of coffee from local coffee shops, is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. And through this, I have some of my very own stories of ‘all that happened over a cup of coffee’ to tell.
This is a story that I love to tell and revisit. On an early morning train from Lucerne to Liechtenstein, I rushed straight to train café on-board to grab a cup of coffee. While my coffee was ready, my card was declined by the machine. Without an option, I requested the server to hold on to my coffee while I brought back some cash from my bag to pay him. A kind stranger who stood there with his colleagues, noticed the situation and immediately told the server that he would take care of it. As soon as I got wind of the situation, I protested, not wanting to take a favor from a stranger. But he stepped up to pay and insisted. There was no small talk involved. Just a thank you from my end with an embarrassed expression. After paying up, the stranger told me to have a good day and went back to his colleague. That’s the story. A complete stranger, without any expectations, chose to act kind. And that kindness, lingers on my mind even today.
Sometimes you have coffee and conversations
Our trip to Croatia in 2016 had been quite intense. Parichay’s wallet was stolen in Zagreb, we faced racism in Croatia, we were running low on funds in Split and we had another 20days to travel. To ease the financial burden, we skipped going to the Plitvice National Park and chose to spend our day in Zagreb. After the series of bad experiences that we had been having in the country, we were skeptical about this last day. I had been craving a good cup of coffee, so we picked Eli’s Café based on online research. The first cup of coffee and I was instantly pleased. We got chatty with the barista who too great care of us. Before we knew, we had spent 5 hours at the café over 2 cups of coffee. The barista, Nik Orosi was the owner of the café and an award-winning barista in Europe. We spoke about all things coffee, travel, Croatia, India, Europe, food. One person, one long conversation ensured that we left his country with a smile and something wonderful to remember.
The French Writer and a cup of Coffee
It was my third trip to Paris. My first ever trip with my best friend. For obvious reasons, the planning of the trip was left to me. I was already traveling across Europe and we decided to meet up in Paris. So, when she landed and came to my hostel in the morning, I took her walking across the most loved city in the world. It was through my previous trips that I had learned that you can easily fall in love with Paris, when you choose to see the life beyond the tourist gaze. We must have walked a good 5 kilometers that winter afternoon, until we reached the Notre Dame. The plan was to visit Shakespeare and Co. which was on the other side of the road. After buying us a coffee, we quickly grabbed a seat outside. Like all things Paris, the room was pretty small. Thus, making way for shared seating. In no time, we had a French man joining our table. After a few silent minutes and overhearing our conversations, he started talking. For the next one hour, here’s what the scene looked like- a French man and two Indian girls sat in a Parisian coffee shop talking. He fit every French stereotype- good looking, charming, great conversationalist, well read and with progressive opinions. We discussed India, Paris, his home-town Bordeaux, religion and spirituality.
That’s the magic of a cup of coffee!
Tasseography in Istanbul
Tasseography is a fortune-telling method based on interpretations of the patterns formed by leftover coffee grounds, tea leaves.
I’m not usually the one to opt to know predictions about my future. Yet, I was extremely curious about the Turkish Tasseography traditions that I actually opted to get a reading done. I had to take a new friend that I had made on my trip, who could speak in both English and Turkish. She was to play the mediator between me and the tasseographer. My part was really just to drink the coffee and share a couple of questions. She asked the questions on my behalf and then translated the answers to me. What remains notable is that almost every prediction has turned out to be true or aligns with my reality.
Talking of Istanbul, a city fueled by endless cups of çay and flavored çay, I enjoyed lots of that too on my trip. I had decided to try as much local food and drink during my travels, to better understand the culture. So, in Istanbul, I picked on çay. (Also, because they serve it black, without milk) Thanks to çay, I had the opportunity to chat with a lot of locals, exchanging similarities between our cultures.
The power of cup of chai-coffee is the ability to spark conversations with absolute strangers. It’s a way to connect, communicate and exchange thoughts, ideas and cultures.
So, the next time you’re traveling, ditch the big chains and room-service. Head out for a cup of chai-coffee!
This post was written as a part of #BlogchatterA2Z Campaign.