My tryst with coffee

My tryst with coffee

Coffee is the drink with which I have grown. It's the specific pure peaberry variety raw beans which my father used to get home from the nearest...

Coffee is the drink with which I have grown. It's the specific pure peaberry variety raw beans which my father used to get home from the nearest mofussil headquarters every month when he went to collect his salary.

They were roasted to perfection on a pan by my mother and grounded manually filling the house with the coffee aroma.

Daily in the morning as we sat around the charcoal stove where the filter was set and the coffee was being prepared, my earlier day performance and behaviour were reviewed by my father who also was my school headmaster.

When I went to the houses of others in the village, the coffee used to be invariably chicory blended Brooke Bond coffee.

Though I did not particularly like the taste of chicory blended coffee, others used to drink and like it but the chicory always gave the coffee very deep and peculiar colour and taste.

I know those who are used to chicory blended coffee can never relish pure coffee and vice versa. In any case, with reference to coffee, taste is specific to the individual.

Today when I saw in the newspaper that the Food Safety and Standards Authority is proposing to limit the chicory content in coffee from present 49% to 30% and the coffee planters in South India are happy with this, I started wondering whether the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is being manipulated by coffee planters to their advantage detrimental to the interests of coffee consumers and chicory growers.

Blending of coffee with chicory is nothing new. It's happening around the world for quite some time. Chicory itself was used as a substitute drink for coffee in times of shortages during the World War period and during the American Civil War.

From the health point of view also, blending with chicory reduces the caffeine content in coffee. Chicory by itself has certain positive effect for diabetes.

When there is nothing found harmful in chicory, I am unable to understand how the percentage of blending of coffee with chicory is an issue for the food safety authority to decide and regulate on.

Is it that chicory growers and the consumers of coffee blended with chicory are not a strong enough lobby to influence their decision as the coffee estate owners are?

In India, chicory is grown by farmers in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh and definitely they are not as well-organised strong lobby as the coffee plantation owners are. Consumers in any case will never be an important factor in influencing such decisions.

There is also a financial angle to the whole issue. Chicory blended filter coffee powder became such a hit with the lower middleclass families of South India since it was cheaper compared to pure unblended filter coffee powder.

Why should FSSAI take the trouble of lowering the chicory content in coffee and make it costly for people to buy and play into the hands of the coffee plantation owners lobby?

France boasts of a drink Ricore 60% chicory blended with 40% coffee.

How would it be if someone there puts up a condition that coffee content should not be more than 30%.

France may not have coffee estates, but the global coffee growers would definitely make it an international trade issue and fight for the freedom to blend chicory and coffee in proportions of their choice.

It would be wise for the food safety and standards authority of India to concentrate on more important issues of adulteration and foodstuffs which are harmful to human health rather than decide what should be the content of chicory in a coffee blended with chicory.

(Writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

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