Coffee

I have been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. Maybe I started drinking at the age of  three. Maybe even earlier, maybe later. But I clearly remember that back when I still had half-day school (i.e. kindergarten), after my afternoon siesta, I would sit down with my grandmother (another major coffee drinker) and we would sip coffee together. My father had been pissed off that my mother never drank coffee, and he had told my grandparents (with whom I spent the day while both my parents went to work) that they should bring me up differently. And so my grandmother had initiated me to coffee fairly early in life.

When I was in high school, I remember being one of the few people in my class who drank coffee. Back then, it was before the coffee days of the world came up, and coffee was still seen as downmarket. Something that you would invariably order at the end of “tiffin” at the neighbourhood Sagar, or Darshini. Coffee was uncool, and had an “uncle” feel to it. It was what you got when you went visiting relatives, or when guests came home. In my family, a visit to a relative’s house would not be complete without at least four rounds of coffee, one as soon as you arrived, one just before “tiffin”/lunch, one after food and another one “for the road”. And my poor mother would miss out on all this.

For a strange reason I can’t fathom now, for a long time I used to prefer the coffee that my father made, a nasty “decanted” brew, made from finely ground coffee powder we got from “modren coffee works” in the Jayanagar Shopping Complex. Despite my grandmother’s exhortations that the coffee she made – from a steel filter using “pure” (i.e. without chicory) coffee beans sourced from India Coffee Works – was superior, I would tell her that it never measured up to my father’s coffee. It was only later on in life (maybe when I got to high school) that I started finding my father’s coffee disgusting (interestingly back then, his mother (i.e. my “other” grandmother) and siblings also made coffee the same horrible decanted way), and I convinced him that we should also start making coffee using a filter.

During the last few years that I lived with my parents (ok I didn’t really live with them, only visited them during (substantial) vacations), coffee had the aura of a “special dish” in our house. We would make coffee only if we had guests. My mother anyway hated the drink, and my father would have had his daily fix at work, so instead they made ┬átea at home, some four times a day, with plenty of sugar. If I protested, I would be asked to visit the nearest darshini (one abominable place called Anna Kuteera). I would grudgingly sip my tea.

So coming back to high school, it was uncool to drink coffee. It was “uncle” to do so, and with friends you only had pepsi (or coke or thums up or whatever). So I was mildly shocked when I found that some classmates in my “new” school (which I switched to in 11th standard, and which was decidedly upmarket compared to my earlier school) had gone out “for coffee”. And a few days later, I ended up accompanying some of them, once again “for coffee”. We all had the relatively inexpensive espresso (Rs. 10; cappuccino was Rs. 20) that day at Cafe Coffee Day (#youremember?) on Brigade Road. It was the first time in my life I had felt “cool” drinking coffee (yeah, back then I was a wannabe and all that).

Six years later, when I got admission into IIMB, my father decided that along with me he too should “go upmarket”. The day I got my admit, we went for coffee (!!) to the Jayanagar Cafe Coffee Day (my mother refused to accompany us since she found that they made chicken samosas there). Soon, I found that my father had started having some official meetings also in coffee shops, rather than in his office (where “office boys” would source coffee in flasks from Adigas a few doors away).

Another level up was when Kalmane Koffee opened an outlet at the forum, and another in Jayanagar. Now, we could sit in a coffee shop and have “real coffee” (I never took a fancy for the taste of cappuccino). It is indeed unfortunate that they haven’t managed to scale up the way CCD has. Though I must mention here that the only time I had a “personal interview” back when I was in the arranged marriage market, it took place at a Kalmane Koffee outlet. And I don’t know why just about everyone I go to that coffee shop with ends up ordering this coffee called Nelyani Gold (I stick to plain vanilla Filter Kaapi).

Some three years back, I had bought a Moka pot from a Coffee Day outlet (they have coffee powder stores apart from their cafes). For the last six months or so, I have abandoned my filter and have been exclusively using this pot to make my coffee. For a long time, I didn’t get good results, but this time I read up and instructed the person manning the counter at Annapurna Coffee Works close to my house to grind my beans extremely finely. Awesome coffee I get, now. Now, if only I can figure out how to froth the milk at home like those Cappuccino machines in Rome do…

CTR

Ok this is a post that has been delayed by about a couple of weeks. One of those things that has been in my head now for a while so writing it. So some two or three Sundays back (more likely to be two) I went to the famous CTR in Malleswaram for breakfast. For the first time ever. Yeah I now it’s supposed to be a classic place and all that but it’s only now that I’m getting acquainted with north/west parts of Bangalore so had completely missed out on this so far.

So as per what several people had told me at various points of time in life, the Masala Dosa at CTR was brilliant. Unparalleled. The difference between CTR and Vidyarthi Bhavan is that the former makes masala dosa just the way that other restaurants do, but only much better and tastier. The dosa at Vidyarthi Bhavan is a different animal altogether and am told the has very different composition to what is made in other restaurants.

There is another important difference between CTR and Vidyarthi Bhavan and thats in terms of service and crowd management. Vidyarthi Bhavan does an excellent job in this regard, striving to “rotate table covers” as quickly as possible. Within moments of you taking your seat, your order gets taken, the dosa arrives, as does the bill and a look from the waiter asking you what the fuck you are doing there considering you have finished your tiffin. Extremely efficient from the point of view of the restaurant (in terms of maximizing capacity) and for customers looking for a quick dosa, but not so from the point of view of people who want to linger for a while and chat.

Unfortunately the one time I’ve been to CTR (2 sundays back) I was in a bit of a hurry since I had to go attend a quiz. Maybe the intention of the restaurant is to allow customers to sit for a while and chat up, but I don’t know if you can actually do that since at any given point of time (reports might be biased since this was a Sunday morning, 9am) there are four people waiting for you to leave so that they can grab your seat. This large crowd that is in waiting is also I think a result of slow service at the restaurant (simple queuing theory – for a given arrival rate, the slower the service rate, the more the average queue length).

There were some simple tasks in which CTR didn’t do so well. For example, making a customer wait for ten minutes before you take his order is not only ten minutes wasted for him, it is also ten minutes of absolutely unproductive “table time” – something that a fast food place like this can’t really afford. And then the ordered items also took a long time to arrive (again, most people at CTR have the same order – one “masaal” so I do hope the make dosas “to stock”) – but then their kitchen capacity may not match up to the capacity of the seating area (which isn’t too much). You pay bill at the table itself rather than at the counter which means you sit there for even longer. And so forth.

This post is supposed to be a part of this series that I was writing some four years back examining the Supply Chain practices and delivery models at various fast food restaurants in Bangalore. I have only one observation with respect to CTR and based on that I don’t give it very high marks in terms of supply chain and delivery efficiency. However, the dosa there is so awesome that I’m sure that I’ll brave the crowds and go there more often and might be able to make better observations about the process.