Sunday, December 15, 2013

Confessions of a Pretentious Coffee Drinker

For thousands of years, coffee drinking has been practiced all over the world. The first coffee plant was said to have existed in the fifteenth century in the monasteries of the Yemen in southern Arabia. From there, coffee was brought to Egypt and to the Middle East. By the 16th century, coffee drinking had spread to Italy and the rest of Europe.

Here in Malaysia for as long as people can remember, it has always been a close fight between the usual teh tarik and black coffee as the favourite drink people love to wake up to. Or rather, drink to wake up. It is not uncommon to hear phrases like “I feel dead without my coffee”, “I can’t function well before having coffee” or “my day hasn’t properly started until I have a cuppa”. It is also a norm to see retired oldies flipping newspapers to a cup of Kopi O, the working class dressed in their crisp shirts having a glass of Kopi Cham with their toasted kaya-butter bread, or coffee packed in a plastic bag and tied with a string to go.

Podgy & The Banker, Hartamas, KL

Cafe Latte @ Roost - Recycled & Repurposed, JB

But of late, I noticed that there's a new wave of coffee drinkers. The mushrooming of "lifestyle cafes" and "hipster hangouts" makes it seem like an easy equation for success: mismatched furniture + loud indie music + vintage-y decoration + coffee + cakes = voila, a hip cafe. With more and more of these cafes, came a breed of what I like to call the pretentious coffee drinkers.

All of a sudden, people are willing to part with RM8 to RM10 for a cup of coffee and some RM9 for a piece of cake that are sometimes, frankly, quite dry. Suddenly there's a flood of pictures of #coffeeart or #latteart on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, oh especially on Instagram. They order their drinks, snap about 24 photos of the cup from different angle, crop, run them through a few filters (preferably VSCO or Afterlight), add a witty caption, post. And wait for the Likes to pour in.

It is funny because these pretentious coffee drinkers or PCD (not Pussycat Dolls lol), previously do not give two hoots about coffee are suddenly super interested in coffee drinking. Before you readers start bashing me for dissing you, I admit that I'm kinda classified under the PCD category. Lemme break it down for you.

Mocha @ Podgy & The Banker, Hartamas, KL

Cafe Latte @ Marche, JEM, Singapore

I used to avoid coffee like the plague. I avoid drinking it and have no interest in drinking a cuppa either. My coffee drinking experience was usually just taking two sips from other people's cups, make a face and go back to my hot chocolate or tea. Mostly because I have had mild gastric since I was young and drinking coffee is bad for a weak stomach. The most coffee I drank was more than a year ago when I did an article about a fairly new cafe in town and the young owner insists that I try his brew. I declined, saying that I might get acid reflux after drinking. He kept offering and to be polite, I gave in. As the interview went on, he served me three cups of different coffees in total - siphoned, filtered, a rose latte AND  a piece of tiramisu with ice cream + a banana chocolate waffle shared between me and my friend in one and a half hours. Let me tell you, when I went back to the office, I felt light headed and my heart was beating quite fast. I laughed at the lamest of jokes and was quite restless for the rest of the day haha. I totally stayed away from coffee after that.

Carpenter & Cook, Singapore

But since the middle of this year, I felt the PCD symptoms creeping up on me. The trend of the aforementioned hip cafes opening up in the Taman Sutera Utama area and Johor Baru, especially in the heart of the city centre reminds me of KL's Bangsar area where the hip, cool kids hang. I felt the urge to visit these new places and slowly, I started ordering a cuppa whenever I do. Being a person who usually orders tea or juices at cafes, I started ordering hazelnut latte or mocha or a macchiato for hanging out sessions after work. I used to scoff at the overpriced drinks at cafes but I weirdly found it acceptable to pay RM10.50 for a cappuccino that I don't even enjoy.

If you ask me whether or not the coffee tastes good or is it potent enough, I can't tell. I know it has a bitter aftertaste and I don't know how to appreciate the aroma. PCDs order coffee drinks not because it tastes good - but because they somewhat look cool when seen ordering a cup. Maybe it's all in their head to stay trendy but PCDs found it a need to order coffee or to be seen hanging out at these cafes with a cup of coffee - at least to their followers on social networking sites.

Then I realised it. I am a PCD.. a mother effing pretentious coffee drinker.

Hazelnut Latte @ Maco Vintage, JB

Hot Chocolate (top) and Mocha @ Coffee Valley, Sutera Mall, JB

So if you can't beat them, join them right? LOL. If you're still new to the coffee drinking scene and want to be a PCD, here are a few tips for you. If you have a weak stomach like me, I suggest you Google the different types of coffee to find out which type suits you (which I totally did). In my case, I usually go for the mocha because it contains chocolate syrup to help balance the bitterness, or the latte, which is like a bigger cup of cappuccino but with more steamed milk so it's more diluted. Cappuccino traditionally is equal parts of espresso, steamed milk and foam.

When the coffee is served, use your smartphone to snap a few pictures of the cup. If it has a nice coffee art - common ones are the leaf, the heart and the spider web - if it's a cat, swan, a cartoon character or a Pokemon, it's a bonus. Try snapping it from a bird's eye view or a close up of the cup any of the corners of the frame. Take small sips in between conversation while looking like you appreciate the cuppa yet don't care much about it.. and congratulations, you've gotten the basic PCD look down to a pat.

However, be warned that it is not a cheap lifestyle and each seating can easily cost you about RM25-28 per person (inclusive of tax and service charge for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake), depending on what you order. I have since started cutting down on cafe visits and opting for cheaper hawker food because I am a) trying to save money, and b) watching my weight.

For the rest of you serious coffee drinkers out there, I am sorry that it took us, non-coffee aficionados, so long to realise that coffee is cool and I'm kinda sorry if we insulted the beautiful art of coffee appreciation by being all hipster about it.

So tell me, what is your favourite type of coffee?

All pictures by me on my iPhone 4S

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