There is something so incredibly special about that first cup of degree coffee in the morning. Be it in the distinct aroma of the thick decoction or the bubbles of the froth on the surface of the dark liquid, many independent parameters need to be perfect for the cup of coffee to be good. Mess up any one thing, and you get a subpar product that might ruin the morning.
Maybe it was my upbringing or my household, I have a special soft corner in my heart for this beverage. Of course, like all kids aged ten and under, I was not allowed to touch coffee until I had grown up enough to get addicted to it. If that sentence makes any sense. But I was a late bloomer, not taking to this elixir until I was nearly 18. I was officially an adult before this became a daily staple for me. Until that, it was one of those ‘forbidden’ drinks that adults frowned at me having.
It was limited to fond grandmothers and genial old grand-uncles giving me a sip from their share, and guffawing when I exclaimed with an emotion that was a mixture of joy and distaste. Joy at having the special status of being the only kid who was given coffee (or so I assumed. But there was a logic to it I will explain shortly). And distaste because the flavor was a bit too strong for my tender taste buds. And the sense of pride I had while I grinned at my exasperated mother was unmatched.
The logic behind getting the best cup of coffee in my household is simple. The earlier you get up, the better your cup of coffee. The unsavoury tactics the women of the household appointed after the first set of coffee was over included watering down the decoction. The economic reasons apart, there was a hidden purpose to this rule. The lazier you are, the lesser the standard of coffee you get. If ever there was an incentive to get up early, it was this.
Back when it was one huge family, with all uncles and aunts living together with the grandparents, one of my uncles was even reduced to having another malt beverage – this is what happened if you got up last, by the time the first batch of early risers had had their brunch and settled down for their afternoon nap. It was great fun watching him groan every time he woke up and looked at the clock. He invariably did that and seemed genuinely surprised every time. Every single time. I wonder how he managed that.
As to the ‘which kid gets the coffee’ question, there were a variety of factors that decided that.
The adult has to be in a reasonably good mood.
Trust me on this one. Many kids have been sent packing with a gentle pat on the back saying ‘coffee was bad for the health and gave grey hair’ if the adult was not in a happy mood. Be it the grandmother or the grandfather or the occasional visitor like the grand-uncle, the adult who is the target point should be in a good mood for the coffee request to work.
The kid has to wake up really early.
Now this is crucial for two things. The earlier you are awake, the better the quality of coffee. That is the obvious benefit. So this means the genial old grand-people of the house are the first to stir and therefore are privy to the best cups of coffee. (Could also be due to the respect they command – but that is another story). Waking up early is an important deciding factor. This also eliminates the chance of other competing cousins. That is another factor – lack of competition.
The trick is not to be greedy.
The beverage is usually supplied in a cup where the froth fills one fourth of the cup and the liquid fills the bottom three fourth. This means that the original supply is already less and the kid has to be satisfied with one sip of coffee. Going back for seconds is out of question and the heavy flavor is more than enough and most kids are okay with just the single mouthful. Well, most kids. Unlike my wise cousin who thought he could get his own worth of coffee by collecting it from multiple adults. To his credit, it was some weeks before the adults noticed.
It helps to earn brownie points
By being the good kid, by doing everything possible to earn the pat on the back, and completing homework on time, or probably getting a prize in the school extempore speech competition are all some chances to earn the special brownie points. They also help keep the said adult in a good mood, so dual benefits. An additional trick is to keep the face as appealingly innocent as possible. A gentle sniffing helps, especially if it is time with their cooling the coffee so that the vapors waft towards you. The small mouthful of coffee seemed an important enough reward at that time.
But as the families grew shorter, and they went nuclear, the coffee logic did not work anymore. The size of the degree coffee filters grew smaller and there was no longer the concept of getting up early to get the best coffee. You got the standard, good cup of coffee no matter at what time you woke up. The diluting adulteration no longer takes place because there simply is no need.
As twenty something adults, all of us (I meant the cousins) missed the small mouthful of coffee we would get as a reward point. It was not just a share from the adults’ coffee. It was a symbol of being special, a reward of sorts for being good, for doing something to deserve it. It was something we had to work for, we had to make an effort to get. It might not seem big enough at this day and age but back then, it was a huge reward, like the soda bottle covers and the old ink pen grandpa had used and gotten a replacement for. They were memories, they were keepsakes and something to brag about, crowing in delight.
I have grown to love this beverage in the last five or six years and have perfected my technique to get it just right for me. I took up the mantle of brewing the coffee in my household about three years ago. This was a rite of passage of sorts. But now my dad prefers my version to all the other versions he has tasted, or so he says. Though he might be highly biased. I brew a better than decent coffee and it is one of my skills I am proud of.
The magic of that single sip of coffee, though, is lost in the sands of time.