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Coffee: A love story

Filter Kaapi is made at Lassi & Spice

Lassi & Spice is proud to celebrate Indian coffee culture and source the highest quality Indian coffee beans. The center of Indian coffee on our menu is Filter Kaapi, a strong, frothy, usually sweetened coffee beverage that's most beloved in South India. It's rare to find any US coffee shops that offer Indian beans, let alone this delicious prepared drink. Filter Kaapi is my favorite thing on the Lassi & Spice menu, and being able to offer it in Seattle is testament to my long standing love of coffee and my discovery of India's coffee culture.

I have been a coffee fanatic since college, starting out as the type of coffee drinker that could at best be called indiscriminate. Freshman year in the dormitories was all about what could be made in an electric hot pot (if you can remember those). And that restriction meant that a dubious can of General Foods International Coffee was my gateway drug, because really who was not trying to celebrate the moments of your life - as their cheesy ads encouraged? Cups of these artificially flavored beige beverages gave off enough of a kick of sugar and caffeine to make me feel like an adult as I sipped and cranked out a term paper. Fortunately, by my later college years, my palate matured a bit and I was brewing actual coffee in an actual coffee brewer, and then lugging massive tumblers of the stuff to those brutal 8am classes. Then as a graduate out in the working world, I made plenty of cups at home and in the office kitchen, trying out different beans and blends, and even supplying my own coffee maker if the office was too stingy to pony up for the staff. But even more exciting were the coffee runs to Au Bon Pain, Starbucks and 7-11 (with their always thrilling counter of mini creamer options)! I wasn't even afraid of gas station coffee because it was cheap and ubiquitous, and my coffee consumption was as functional a habit as anything. My love of coffee started off enthusiastic and omnivorous then, and my habit made it a must-have in the morning and many afternoons. And then along came handsome boyfriend and then fiancee Aashish, and that critical moment we were discussing our upcoming trip to India for our wedding.

My main worry was not the long trip, or how I would remember all the names of his aunts and uncles, or even whether I would ever manage to get into a sari unassisted. Those were on my mind, of course, but more pressing was the coffee situation. Aashish was not (then) a coffee drinker, and nor was his family. I had forgiven these transgressions, but as our flight approached for our 2 week trip, I apprehensively took stock of my coffee supply options like any nervous drug addict heading to a new locale. Our wedding would be held in Aurangabad, Aashish's hometown. Were there any coffee shops there? No, or at least not within walking distance of their house. Did his family have a coffee maker? No. not likely. They adore chai. Couldn't I get by on chai during the trip, Aashish asked? My head spun at the thought. I knew in order to satisfy my daily caffeine habit it would require an obscene amount of chai consumption. Demanding buckets of chai served all day was probably feasible, but it didn't really become a foreign bride who was trying her best to go with the flow. Nor did the caffeine withdrawal headaches, shaking hands and cravings seem like what I wanted to endure in the mid

st of a multi-day wedding celebration. So instead I bought a mini French press and a couple bags of ground French roast, which I carefully packed it in my carry on. For I could not fathom losing that lifeline in the checked luggage.

During our visit, Aashish's family took note with some amusement of my coffee habit and mentioned there was one other family member who preferred coffee to chai. This was Aashish's grandmother, who we called "Aaji". Delighted, I could not wait to share a cup with her when she arrived for the wedding. Aaji is a petite writer and poet who spoke only a few phrases in

English to match my few phrases of Marathi. But her warmth and loveliness broke through the language barrier. Her acceptance of me came early and was crucial to bringing the entire family together to celebrate our marriage. I have always been in awe of her curiosity and open mindedness. She even wrote and recited a poem to celebrate the wedding, a highlight of the events. But in her embrace of me, she made it quite clear she most definitely DID NOT like my coffee.

The puzzle of why another lifelong coffee drinker would reject a carefully prepared French pressed cup led my on a journey to understand Indian coffee culture better. As I watched Aaji prepare a cup of her preferred blend of kaapi to share with me, I saw how different it was: chicory and instant coffee granules were slow brewed into a thick, syrupy concoction. Then this concoction was poured into a cup with boiling buffalo milk and a healthy scoop of sugar. It was different and del-

With Aaji, my coffee ambassador

ightful, closer to a rich, whole milk latte than what I was offering her. I could see why she found the black, extremely roasty cup I shared undrinkable. But I did not find her kaapi the same at all. Instead, I wondered where had it been on my life?!

Subsequent trips back to India led to more exploring of how kaapi was enjoyed in cafes, in airport booths, in street stands and in homes. And how Indian beans are grown around the misty hill stations in Kerala, where the glossy green leaves of coffee trees promised there would be plenty of ripe coffee cherries to pick at harvest. And yet, not much of any crop would ever be exported to the US. India's nutty, heavy bodied but balanced coffees like Monsoon Malabar are not yet on the radar of most American coffee drinkers, but it seems like this is just a matter of time.

Fast forward to Lassi & Spice, a product of my coffee and cultural journey, and it was a given that Filter Kaapi would feature heavily on our menu. However, I soon ran into unexpected difficulties of sourcing Indian Arabica beans in the US. They were simply nowhere to be found until I came across Enchanted Indian Coffee. Enchanted Indian is a small operation based in Maryland, with a father in India and son in the US working together to source beans in Karnataka, import green beans by the shipping container load into the Port of Baltimore, and then have them dark roasted to perfection by a local roaster. When I first spoke to Nithin, the Enchanted Indian owner, his voice registered his enthusiasm for our concept and the excitement around being a part of it. This was exactly the type of partner I sought out, and more than 2 years later, there's never been a doubt that these are the best quality beans we could ever find. Nithin and I have had adventures in shipping beans between the East and West coasts during this pandemic year, but the work has been worth it. I appreciate it every time I enjoy a perfectly made filter kaapi, or hear a customer exclaim that it's the best they've had in the US.

This spring we add Cold Brew to our line up, using a simple brewing method that harnesses cold water, gravity and time to extract the amazing flavor of these kaapi beans. Currently available at our Wallingford store, we hope to offer it in both locations soon. This means customers can enjoy these special kaapi beans 4 ways: 1) In our Filter Kaapi 2) As a Pourover 3) Blended into milk and toffee syrup to make Cold Coffee and now 4) As Cold Brew. Options and variety and deliciousness and caffeine. Just what the coffee omnivore has always wanted!



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