Punjabi by Nature: The tea-coffee Dilmah

  • Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jul 14, 2015 13:13 IST
Tea vs coffee (Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu/HT)

Have you ever woken up in the morning with a feeling where you have had to debate whether to drink tea or coffee? As for me, I wake up with this feeling on a daily basis, but realised it only after reading a friend’s Facebook post where she posted a paragraph titled ‘Tea versus coffee’. Her post seemed as though she had found a diagnosis to my perennial riddle each morning of whether to have tea or coffee. For example, I face no such challenge in the evening while deciding between Scotch and beer. It’s the former always.

The dispute between tea and coffee kickstarts early morning in spite of the fact, that for years, I have been drinking a pot of Darjeeling Lopchu tea as bed tea. But no! Bed tea or bed coffee is a thought that must cross my mind once I wake up. The debate is usually settled in Lopchu’s favour because before I can make up my mind, my house help has already brewed the Lopchu and is knocking on my door.

After the daily ritual of reading the newspaper as I sip tea and chit-chat with my wife every morning, my standard drill is to walk up to my study to complete my writing obligations. However, just when I am about to begin scribbling, the urge to have tea or coffee, once again, jostles my mind. Depending on my mood, calm or stirred, I choose my drink and brew it in my study. If I’m calm, unruffled or hung-over I prefer coffee to stimulate and boost my mind, but if enthused too much, a good cup of tea helps in keeping it from leaping excessively. Perhaps, the difference in their characters, where one is excited, and the other phlegmatic, lies in their very origin. Coffee was founded by a goat herder in Ethiopia who saw his goats behave in a strange way when they ate a particular kind of berry; while tea was discovered by a Chinese emperor who felt its calm effects after tea leaves accidentally fell into his pot of boiling water. Tea and coffee habits also reflect on the kind of personality you are, the latter reflecting the go-getters and the former a ponderous person. I personally prefer coffee, but given my confused state of mind one can hardly classify me. I get drawn to coffee due to its aroma than caffeine, and at times feel disappointed with its taste since the aroma is so much better than the final taste.

Once over with my writing, work takes me either to my farm or office of the television network where I work as a consulting editor. If it’s the farm there’s no debate since I carry only water, but a hot beverage is a must in office. Incidentally, the peon has figured my confused state of mind and without even asking gets me a cup of hot water, milk, tea bag and coffee powder. Choose what you want, is what he is suggesting. Amidst the confusion I end up brewing coffee because an editor drinking tea is so not hot! And god forbade if it’s green tea, you can actually walk all over him.

Usually, I like to entertain my daytime guests in a coffee shop. I simply like its buzz, sensuality and the energy as opposed to the dawdling atmosphere of tea rooms. I meet more like minded people in coffee shops than tea rooms and also enjoy writing this column there.

However, in the coffee shop I face the same dilemma even though my favourite hot beverage is Cafe Americano. The same dichotomy follows me when I visit someone’s house. The moment I hear the question Coffee ya Cha, I go in a temporary fix, now what? I wait for everyone to order and usually go with the flow, but with one request. Less doodh. One of the reasons I don’t like cappuccino or Punjabi tea is because of the excess milk. Dare say this in Punjab, where the entire household energy is focused on milk or milking the state.

This also makes my choice very difficult when I’m visiting village folks in Punjab. Tea, I can’t request for and coffee is so not Punjabi! Imagine asking for coffee in hinterland Punjab.

No wonder you only find tea stalls and not kadak masala coffee vends.

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