The butter addition.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Believe it or not, one of the big global trends in healthy diets finds resonance in Old Delhi.
But we should not get ahead of our story.
As 2014 approached its end, wellness experts and coffee connoisseurs, primarily in the West, raised the pitch about something called Bulletproof coffee. Actor Shailene Woodley declared herself a fan in an October episode of The Tonight Show. The UK-based Guardian newspaper wrote about it in November. The New York Times (NYT) featured it in its Style section in December — the newspaper credited its invention to a technology entrepreneur and biohacker Dave Asprey, who uploaded the recipe on his blog way back in 2009.
The NYT said: “The recipe — a riff on the yak butter tea Mr Asprey found restorative while hiking in Tibet — calls for low-mold coffee beans; at least two tablespoons of unsalted butter (grass-fed, which is higher in Omega 3s and vitamins); and one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, a type of easily digestible fat. Mr Asprey claims having the 450-plus-calorie cup of coffee instead of breakfast suppresses hunger, promotes weight loss and provides mental clarity.”
Cut the jargon and you will find that the Bulletproof coffee is basically, more or less, a mug of coffee blended with butter.
This is an old idea in Old Delhi.
Meet Mohammed Moinuddin. In his 40s, this quiet, unassuming man has been serving butter coffee (15 rupees per glass; and plain coffee for 10 rupees) to loyal local fans for a decade. His roadside stall is on the congested Chitli Qabar Chowk, a few minutes’ walk from Jama Masjid. The stall opens every winter evening at 5pm and closes at 2am (Mr Moinuddin serves cold drinks in summer).
The men-only crowd gathers at around 9pm. From then, the coffee vendor doesn’t get a spare moment even to spit, seemingly the fundamental right of every Old Delhi dweller.
The only big piece of equipment in Mr Moinuddin’s café is what most of us term an espresso machine. But this one actually produces nothing except froth with great sound and fury. The rest of the café’s paraphernalia consists of a pan of hot milk (already mixed with Nescafé coffee powder), a tin of cocoa powder and a couple of slabs of yellow Amul butter.
All that Mr Moinuddin does is drop the butter slabs into a jug of coffee milk, which he then steams up with the “espresso machine”.
The resulting brew, served in thick paper glasses, tastes buttery of course. And this being Old Delhi, it’s very milky and sugary. And since Amul butter is one of the ingredients, the coffee is also salty.
The customers love it; they sit on Coca-Cola crates exchanging notes on politics and Bollywood over repeat glasses of the butter coffee. One regular says the drink is not only “very tasty”, but that “it heats up the body on cold nights”.
Butter coffee is apparently also available at a stall in the Ballimaran neighbourhood. In Chitli Qabar, however, the only rival to Mr Moinuddin’s butter coffee is Mohammed Naeem’s ginger-flavoured chai cart, directly opposite. But if the numbers are anything to go by, the (Walled City) Bulletproof coffee scores over the tea, at least on freezing winter nights.
New York’s new trend is old in Old Delhi
5. (Bulletproof coffee regulars)