100 Days in India Project

Indian coffee and chai tea shop in Delhi, India.

60/ 100 Indian Coffee

Imagine you have just arrived in New Delhi railway station after spending several hours on a train from Jaipur. You push your way through the thousands of passengers, sliding your bags through the security scanner. It isn’t even switched on, but a guard makes you do it anyway. You avoid making eye contact with the tourist-spotting touts vying for your business, telling you that only local people can exit through the main gate so that they can take you to some other side door where they will scam you a bit more. We are easy to spot as tourists, but they are equally as easy to spot as scammers given a little practice. Just look for the leather jacket and Nike trainers. Eventually, you make it out onto the street and feel in need of a nice cup of Indian coffee.

Our hotel in this instance was only a short walk from the station and was surprisingly nice and modern. It was part of a chain called Bloom Hotels and followed the trend of offering a chain of hotels that were all about the funkiness and design. We really liked it, not least of all because it had hot water for a shower. Every place we stayed had a shower, but only some of them had hot water whilst most of them had tepid water, some of the time. Showered, unpacked and Immodiumed to the max it was time for that coffee.

Weirdly, given that they make amazing milky sweet chai tea, and you cannot be more than 5 meters from a chai stall anywhere in India, it was really hard to get a nice cup of Indian coffee. You would see fantastic-looking vintage coffee machines tempting you from dark doorways. You would watch the barista dust off the machine and wave the jug of milk at it before dolloping the tepid froth into a cup full of Nescafe granules. They were very proud of the fact that it was Nescafe, just as a coffee shop in Italy might be proud to sell Lavazza, and given that they believe that the more granules you add, the better the coffee, this resulted in some pretty soupy drinks and many sleepless nights.

Knowing that finding a good cup of coffee in India was going to be a problem we brought our own coffee with us on our second trip, but we had no milk. The hotel in Delhi didn’t give it to guests and all the teabags in the room were herbal so we didn’t have any there either. Apparently trendy hotels think that trendy guests drink new-age chamomile tea all the time. But there are so many dairy products consumed in India that the streets are practically awash with yoghurt so we should be able to buy milk easily, right? Not really, it turns out, but more about that in the next story.