Chasing the local Chai

As a long time fan and aficionado of coffee, I have tried to find all the information I can get about it. Of the many trivia I have gathered so far, the Turkish way of preparing coffee always had its special place in my mind. It was the Turks who said –“Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love”. The Turkish way of preparing coffee involves putting very fine ground coffee and water in an cezve, and bringing it close to boiling twice or thrice. More info here. I thought it to be a unique process which imparts a very different flavor to the drink.

What broke my perception of uniqueness about Turkish coffee was the fact that I saw a street vendor prepare the local Indian tea – chai (In places near Mumbai, half a cup of chai is also called cutting) outside my office. He had just started when my colleagues and I strolled up to him. During our typical office gossip, I noticed him pour milk and tea leaves (the commonly found, low-cost variety) in a saucepan and heat it three times to a near boil. He removed the saucepan just as the boiling started and replaced it back in less than ten seconds, and served us only after doing it thrice. I interrupted him quite abruptly, my curiosity having taken the best over me. He explained that this way of preparation gave the chai its unique flavor.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks! That is the reason many affluent people are addicted to this low-cost, common man’s drink. It scores over the dip tea or other similar available beverages not just because of its cost, but the flavor imparted by this unique preparation style which has been perfected by almost all street vendors across India. That is also the reason that chai made at home lacks a certain flavor found in the local street shop.

Joys of Being a Jerk

Having had a brief exposure to the front end of retail sales, I have dealt with all sorts of customers. The ones that come to mind the most are obviously the horrible, screaming ones. They are the kind which makes people in retail despise humanity as a whole. I had often thought when dealing with this type of customers, that I would never do something like this while making a purchase myself. I planned never to scream or make a scene even if my shopping caused me some inconvenience. But then again, the best laid plans of men and mice…

I have a high-end gaming laptop which cost me quite a bit. It is, as expected, an ultimate performance machine which comes with extended warranty. I was having some issues with it recently so I called in the service guy. His diagnostics suggested replacement of a few parts and he committed to complete the task next day at or before 11:30 AM, because that was when the necessary parts would be sent separately by the company. Apparently, parts were delivered separately to ensure genuine products reached the customer. So far, so good.

The next day however, I started getting. apologetic calls from the company from 10:00 AM at an interval of every 20 minutes, explaining possibilities of a delay! Apparently, what had happened was this – Possession of this tres cher laptop made me one of the most valuable customers and in order to get a good feedback, the service guy had made the time commitment too early for their warehouse to adhere to. He arrived on time and had a proper contrite face when I told him that the people on the phone said the delivery could happen by 1:00 PM earliest (by Indian standards, this was not even an issue. Hell, they could have been 24 hours late before anyone except the customer could be bothered).

At this point, knowing the situation, plus my background experience, I should have ideally smiled and said that it didn’t bother me. Instead, the core of my existence, which is twisted and evil, prompted me to have a feel of the other side of the table, being a nasty customer. I purposefully berated the poor guy for wasting my entire day and added some other filler I had heard as a front-end guy. The man immediately started making calls to his bosses and as a result, a delivery van arrived with the parts within half an hour. Before 12:30 PM, my laptop was good and I was golden. My takeaway from this episode can be summed up very simply – The crying baby gets the milk. I think I understand why people do it in a store. Making a scene is not only a surefire way to get your needs fulfilled immediately, but also, there is a chance to receive a bonus to placate you. Also, venting out makes you feel (temporarily) good and doing so publicly makes you seem macho. I did end up giving the service person the best possible rating in his feedback.

An Ode to Coffee

I have been a self-taught barista since the fall of ‘06. Unlike the urban, youth Indian populace, I actually got addicted to caffeine. I don’t know how and why. All I know is I used instant coffee to keep me awake during my exams since class nine. Then I bought a coffee maker with one of my initial salaries, and now I need at least 4 cups daily. So over the years, I have devoted some of my spare time to coffee as a subject and here I present a compilation I have collected from the net as well as my own understanding –

1. Beans

a. Bean Types –

Robusta (Coffea Canephora)

Arabica (Coffea Arabica)

2.7% caffeine 1.5% caffeine
Less maintenance and greater yield Lower yield and more maintenance
Full-bodied, earthy flavour, bitter (pyrazine) Slightly acidic tone, smoother, richer
20% of the coffee produced in the world 80% of the coffee produced in the world
Vietnam, Brazil, India, and Indonesia Central America, East Africa, India, Indonesia

b. Cleaning –

Wet Process

Dry Process

Specific equipment and substantial quantities of water Used for about 90% of the Arabica coffee produced in Brazil, Ethiopia, Haiti and Paraguay, also in India and Ecuador. All Robusta are processed by this method
More balanced taste Fruitier taste

c. Roasting –

Roast

Surface

Notes

Flavour

Light Dry At first crack (205 deg C) Light, acidic, no-roast
Med Dry Between first and second crack Balanced, smoother, slight originality
Full Slight Shine At second crack (225 deg C) Aromatic, heavy body
Double Oily Smoke come out, sugar carbonizes Smokey-sweet, nothing original

Caffeine diminishes with increased roasting level: light roast – 1.37%; medium roast – 1.31%; and dark roast < 1.31%. At lighter roasts, the bean will exhibit more of its “origin flavour”; the flavours created in the bean by its variety, the soil, altitude, and weather conditions in the location where it was grown. As a rule of thumb, the “shinier” the bean is, the more dominant the roasting flavours are. Sucrose is rapidly lost during the roasting process and may disappear entirely in darker roasts. During roasting, aromatic oils and acids weaken, changing the flavour. At 205 °C other oils start to develop. One of these oils, Caffeol, is created at about 200 °C, which is largely responsible for coffee’s aroma and flavour.

2. Preparation

a. Grinding and Brewing–

The fineness of grind strongly affects brewing, and must be matched to the brewing method for best results. Brewing methods which expose coffee grounds to heated water for longer require a coarser grind than faster brewing methods. Beans which are too finely ground for the brewing method in which they are used will expose too much surface area to the heated water and produce a bitter, harsh, “over-extracted” taste. At the other extreme, an overly coarse grind will produce weak coffee unless more is used. Water temperature should always stay between 90 and 96 degree Celsius. If the temperature is higher, the result is bitter and ashy taste. If the temperature is lower, then the taste is sour and diluted. In processes involving manual intervention, it is easier to make a mistake of having water at a lower temperature. The other scenario doesn’t happen because water is taken off-heat at boiling point, and by the time it is seeped through coffee, it reaches ideal temperature. Due to the importance of fineness, uniformly ground coffee is better than a mixture of sizes.

  • Coarse – Very distinct particles of coffee. Downright chunky.
  • Medium – Gritty, like coarse sand. (I use this a lot)
  • Fine – Smoother to the touch, a little finer than granular sugar or table salt.
  • Extra fine – Finer than sugar, but grains should still be discernable to the touch.
  • Turkish – Powdered, like flour.

Brew Method

Ideal Grind

Plunger pot / French press Coarse
Percolator Coarse
Vacuum coffee pot Coarse
Drip coffee makers (flat bottomed filters) Medium
Espresso mocha pots Fine
Drip coffee makers (cone filters) Fine
Espresso machines (pump or steam) Extra fine
Ibrik / Cezve Turkish

b. Flavour –

Flavour is the overall perception of the coffee in your mouth. Acidity, aroma, and body are components of flavour. It is the balance and homogenization of these senses that create your overall perception of flavour.

Acidity – It is the sensation of dryness that the coffee produces under the edges of your tongue and on the back of your palate. It provides a sharp, bright, vibrant quality. Without sufficient acidity, the coffee will tend to taste flat. Acidity should not be confused with sour, which is an unpleasant, negative flavour characteristic.

Aroma – Without our sense of smell, our only taste sensations would be: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The aroma contributes to the flavours we discern on our palates. Subtle nuances, such as “floral” or “winy” characteristics, are derived from the aroma of the brewed coffee.

Body – It is the viscosity, heaviness, thickness, or richness that is perceived on the tongue. A good example of body would be that of the feeling of whole milk in your mouth, as compared to water. Your perception of the body of a coffee is related to the oils and solids extracted during brewing. Coffees with a heavier body will maintain more of their flavour when diluted.

c. My Recipes –

Basic Ingredients –

Standard Espresso shot – 60 ml, Steamed milk, Milk Foam, Condiments (Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Chocolate powder etc.)

1. Cappuccino

Espresso:Milk:Foam :: 1:1:1 (a.k.a. rule of thirds)

Foam dense, Total 180 ml, Optional condiments

2. Americano / Long Black (My daily cup)

Espresso:Water :: 1:2

Always add hot water separately to espresso, Total 180 ml

3. Cafe Latte

Espresso:Milk:Foam :: 1:3:1

Foam Light, Total 300 ml

4. Flat White

Same as Latte except it has no foam, Total 240 ml

5. Macchiato

Espresso: Foam :: 1:1

Foam dense, Total 120 ml

Visiting Maldives – Diving a.k.a. Evolution was a Waste

I had the opportunity to go to my first pleasure-trip abroad recently. Since I had never done anything which is considered exciting or cool, so to say, and basically wanted to brag about something (like I am doing now), I decided to go for diving in Male, Maldives. Now, as most things I do in my life, I do not have a convincing answer to the question why a portly fellow like myself wanted to dive, except that I really wanted to. Also, after four days of thorough enjoyment and merry making, I am now an international, lifetime licensed scuba-diver, verified by P.A.D.I.!

Diving is a costly affair – no second thoughts on that, but the experience is totally worth it, especially if you get a license like I did. In the words of a cheap person (yours truly) – it is worth every single paisa. The instructors and diving buddies at Male are amazing. They are very friendly and adjusting so that you overcome every fear and boldly dive down, safe and amazed.

To earn my license, I completed a series of tests, a bit theoretical and a lot underwater. It included taking out my breathing regulator deep down and after a short while, retrieving and reusing it. At one point I had to stay still for a minute at a given depth without bobbing up or down. During this exercise, I was cross-legged, holding my fins (still on) with my hands, looking like an underwater ascetic of sorts. I took a total of six dives, including instructional and those for pure pleasure. Anyone who has dived in Male will know these areas – Maagiri, Bandos Reef, Coral Garden, Manta Point and Fish Tank.

And now, on to what I experienced. Although all the amazing witnessing I did was at very close distance, I obeyed the instruction of “looking, no touching”. We always started our dives near coral reefs, which are complex and delicate ecosystems, and they contain schools of fishes and a few mean-tempered Murray Eels. Schools of different fishes roamed around us like I had seen in the videos of divers on TV. I saw three Black-tip Reef Shark in different dives; the last sighting was at a distance of three feet. As my instructor had pointed out, they were harmless. I was fortunate enough to witness 8-10 Sting Rays up close. In one of the instructional dives, I saw four Napoleon Wrasse together. I wasn’t aware of their existence and their size startled me so much I nearly soiled myself. I saw a Sturgeon fish and at one point, four Maldives Anemone fish (NEMO!!). I could even take a video of a school of 30-40 dolphins who crossed paths with our boat one day. Even HD versions of Discovery, NGC and the rest can’t compare to the four days I lived there.

I had a ball of a time. I spend over three hours and twenty seven minutes being forty feet underwater. Here is what I have concluded about life after this euphoric experience – Coming out of water to evolve into land dwellers was a waste. It is so amazing underwater and I was so comfortable that I never wanted to end any of my dives.

 

Insurance Scam

Ever wondered why your doctor/mechanic asks for insurance before treating your/your car?
Let me illustrate.
Here is what happened to me 2 weeks ago.
My car (maruti alto k10) developed a problem because some rain water seeped inside its clutch. The mechanic (maruti authorized service center) was ready to repair it in 2 hours and would cost me 150/- and 350/- to tow the vehicle. He additionally recommend me to get my upholstery cleaned which was smelling due to water stagnation.
Since it was a brand new car, and the cleaning of carpet would take 2 days, I thought of claiming insurance (Tata AIG)

Net result was that instead of the 2000/- that i had to clean for the entire process:
The total mechanic bill came to: 5200/-
Insurance paid 2500/- (3000/- – deduction of 500/-) and I had to pay 2,700/-.
On top of it, I lost no claim insurance bonus worth 1500/- and had to shell out another 300*7 days = 2100/- for autorichshaw charges to commute to my office. (even if i deduct for the fuel, i lost 1000/- and an added inconvenience of 9 days)

without insurance
mechanic: +2000
Myself: -2000 – 450 (auto – fuel) = -2450 and I would have got my car on the 3rd day.

with insurance
insurance company: -2500 + 1500 (no claim bonus) = -1000/-
mechanic: 5200/-
myself: -2700 – 1500 (insurance) – 1050 (auto) = 5250/- and I got my car on the 9th day.

During my MBA classes, I was told that options, like insurance, are a zero sum game. No wealth is created and it is just transferred from one account to another. (usually from the client to the broker)
Out here, it seems that the only person who gained was my mechanic.

You could have argued that I should have contested the excess charges. Well when one claims insurance, the mechanic provides you with itemized billing and with physical and photo graphical evidence of all the work he/she does. So it becomes very hard to contest.
I have heard of so many cases where some hospitals also inflate the bills when the client has insurance.

I wonder when will the customers realize that because of this malpractice, their insurance premiums are higher. Hence it is they who ends up paying 2-3 times for the same service.

On Quitting Smoking

Hehehe, well I won’t bore you with the cliches you hear on this topic. But what’s making me laugh is the specific incident which caused my quitting. Wish I could say that it was something trite as a parent’s scold or a girlfriend’s emotional blackmail. It was the police, and no, I wasn’t caught per se…well almost.
I was at the pragati maidan in delhi during the India International Trade Fair this winter’s start. For the last 3 months, I had forgotten what a weekend was, so standing there at my company’s stall watching families, friends and couples enjoy the atmosphere was beginning to tell on me. To say that I was pissed off was to say the Bay of Bengal is damp.
So, taking a cigarette break at every possible excuse to leave the stall, I would stroll to a convenient, private corner while listening to the continuous announcement – this is a no plastic and no smoking zone…like I gave a damn. Well it turns out I should have – given a damn.
This particular constable is slim for a change. God damn it, he is fitter than Me! This must be a new joinee, untouched by the system and ready to change the world. And here I am, unexcercised since, well, forever. And I have smoke in my lungs. With less than fifty feet between us, I ran. Didn’t see where I was heading, didn’t see who I was bumping, just made Forrest gump proud. When I finally merged into the crowd and started panting, my thought train started chugging. If it wasn’t for the cigarette, I could have excercised and be fitter, and run better without feeling nauseated and pukish. To hell, if it wasn’t for the ciggy, I wouldn’t BE running.
Chuck the damn thing, along with any thing that makes me move my a.., ahem, feet at such a rapid pace. Laziness is too great a feeling to be wasted on any damn thing.

The Little I

Little Lights in the sky
Little stars twinkle my eye
Little moon above so high
Little eyes can see so high.

Little wings of the butterfly
Little rain drops falling by
Little chirp of the bird that fly
Little cloud in the sky.

Little sound the wind with fly
Little grasshopper jump so high
Little nut of squirrel shy
Little rabbit runs so why .

Little sound and the train go by
Little dog to catch insect try.
Little cat on tree so high
Little plane up in sky.

Little cow chew and mow
Little seeds the farmer sow
Little egg the chicken lay
Little frogs croak to say

Little leaf on the ground fall
Little tree will grow so tall
Little dew on rose so small
Little sound of church toll.

Little little the world so all
Little little I will know it all
Little little I see with my eye
Little little learns the Little I .