Confessions of an Extra Hot Coffee Drinker
I’m a big fan of London’s café culture, but I have one quibble: the coffee is never hot enough.
If you’re one of those people who actually wait for their coffee to cool down, you probably think I’m crazy. I’m well aware of it. I am accustomed to quizzical looks from Baristas, and friends who make the mistake of offering to order my coffee for me. “Make sure you mention extra hot!”
I am also familiar with the cautionary warnings about overheated milk, which will ruin the authentic coffee flavour. Gary Baxter, the owner of Four Corners cafe in Lower Marsh, who I recently interviewed for my blog, shared that lactose burns when milk is heated beyond 65-degrees, which stretches the proteins in the milk and changes its consistency and flavour. According to him, well-made coffee should not be extra hot, because that keeps the micro-bubbles intact and allows for a velvety texture that is the hallmark of good coffee.
So not only do my tastes appear eccentric but also unappreciative of the newfangled coffee culture. But it’s a risk I’ll take, because to me, tepid coffee is tasteless. Of course the burning question – in this case very literally – is why? Why does my beverage need to be piping hot?
For most of my coffee drinking life I have been convinced that my penchant for all things extra hot is hereditary. Re-heating pots of coffee became a daily ritual when living with my grandmother in Delhi whose tolerance for heat seems even higher than mine. “It needs 20 more seconds in the microwave,” she would insist, despite the very visible steam rising from her coffee cup. Suddenly, my need to consume extra hot coffee seemed clear.
But more recently I have started to believe that the explanation for this eccentricity may be greater than my family genes. After all, Indians share an odd affinity for culinary experiences that comprise all things ‘extra-hot.’ The classic household excuse to get your family onto the dining table is ‘khana thanda ho jayega’ (the food will get cold.)
So could my craze for extra-hot coffee stem from my cultural heritage? Serving lukewarm food, or even beverages, in India is somewhat a social stigma. Food must be served piping hot, and tea/coffee must be accompanied with warm milk. “You sure you don’t want me to heat it?” my grandmother would ask, appalled at seeing my Western-acquired habit of pouring milk straight from the fridge!
Our fixation with hot temperatures extends beyond the household. Even in the scorching heat of Delhi summers, my colleagues and I would copiously consume hot chai at the tea-stall outside our office. To illustrate just how hot this chai was, the joke I often make is that chai from the roadside is perfectly hygienic because it’s boiled enough to kill any trace of bacteria.
And if you still can’t fathom how obsessed Indians are with hot temperatures, we’ve also invented innovative ways to avoid their adverse effects of tongue scalding and chest-burning. In some parts of India it is customary to drink tea from the saucer, since pouring the liquid out of the teacup helps to cool it down slightly. South Indians are one step ahead in this game, and ingeniously serve their filter coffee with an empty bowl.
good old fashioned cooling down of a fabulous South indian filter coffee at sagar ratna in behror, Rajasthan. pic.twitter.com/YjLRj85mDN
— Pooja Bedi (@poojabeditweets) January 26, 2016
Of course, I see no need to use it, because as far as my tongue is concerned, the temperature is just right.
Blame it on nature or nature, but drinking coffee in London has become less of a leisurely experience than it is a race against time and temperature. Whilst balancing the exasperation of Baristas with my innate need to drink coffee extra-hot, my tactical responses have evolved to include denial, defense, and delusion. If it’s a potential colleague I am meeting, I simply nod politely when asked if my coffee was hot enough, thinking “another 3 pounds wasted on lukewarm liquid!” or “at least I didn’t pay for it!”
On other occasions, I shamelessly head back to the counter and ask another Barista to reheat my coffee, assuring them that my palate is well prepared for burnt milk. And in situations where I simply lack the will to confront the server, I have contemplated letting it cool down to the point where I can pretend it is iced coffee. Luckily, the weather is finally appropriate for actual iced coffee now, so my ‘crazy-coffee-ordering-lady’ label may wear off for the summer. But watch out Baristas, because with London’s unpredictable weather, you can bet I’ll be channeling my extra-hot craze every now and then.