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Dec 7, 2012 07:37 AM

Indians prefer their coffee (really) sweet?

I don't mean to stereotype and I hope that this does not come off the wrong way, but is it true that generally speaking Indians prefer their coffee on the sweeter side?

I've been told this by at least a handful of people (all non-Indians) and the two occasions where I've had the opportunity to see an Indian prep their coffee, I've noticed that they put an inordinate amount of sugar into their beverage.

In fact, one time was on an airplane, where the person asked for 10 sugar packets for his coffee -- y'know those airplane coffee cups the size of a large shot glass? At the time I just chalked it up as his way to mitigate the insipidness of airplane coffee and altitude. But thinking back on it now, there might have been something else at work.

Does anyone have any insight to this? Is this just a false stereotype, or is there some validity to it? If there is, can someone explain why?

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  1. I'd be wary of any stereotype, especially about India or Indians, because stereotypes are notoriously exaggerated and untrue, and also because as they say, "India is a land of contradictions" so you may come to some conclusion: always in India or never in India and find your notion busted right away.

    If you mean NRIs, overseas Indians, well, who is to say what anyone likes after they have been living abroad and picked up coffee culture in other countries. I have lots of Indian American friends with whom I go to coffee shops sometimes and I never saw anyone put 10 packets of sugar in their coffee. Maybe one packet or some Splenda.

    Within India, there is South Indian filtered coffee, which is usually taken quite sweet. Don't know if some friends of yours travelled to S. India, tasted this, and had this in mind. I love South Indian filtered coffee, though, I can't see how anyone wouldn't like this frothy sweet milky stuff. Think of milky Indian tea; I know many people who don't drink their desi style milky tea very sweet since they limit sugar intake, but if you have traditional milky tea, or tea stall tea, you will note it is quite sweet. Same thing with the coffee, which once again is limited to some very specific regions in S. India.

    Here is a blog post I found that shows the special filter and manner of serving this regional specialty of South Indian filter coffee. Do note that the blogger writes "sugar as required" and not "ten spoons of sugar per cup."

    But in the rest of India, the vast majority of people are hard core tea drinkers. There is coffee available in major urban centers at hip and trendy Western style coffee shops. I have been to these types of coffee shops in Delhi and Mumbai with Indian friends and did not notice anyone pouring 10 spoons of sugar into their coffee. Just regular amounts of one or two spoons, or diet sugar. At Westernized Indian grocery stores in these major cities,you can find brands like Nescafe, as well as Maxwell House grounds for some urban affluent Indians or returned NRIs who like to have coffee at home. But quite frankly, most average people would never have even tasted coffee. It's consumption is limited to a specific region in S. India, and with Western style coffee, very limited in popularity except with urban upper class people.

    So this is my observation on India and coffee.

    3 Replies
    1. re: luckyfatima

      "If you mean NRIs, overseas Indians, well, who is to say what anyone likes after they have been living abroad and picked up coffee culture in other countries"

      "Within India, there is South Indian filtered coffee, which is usually taken quite sweet."

      Well maybe they picked it up in India then, since you don't cite to foreign cultures that take their coffee "quite sweet"

      1. re: FrankJBN

        No, Western style coffee culture in urban centers in India is a recent foreign import. South Indian indigenous coffee culture (also imported at one point in history) is very limited in region and influence. NRIs picking up an affinity abroad is also a separate issue. I wasn't affirming ipsedixit's proposition, I was just giving my observations on coffee consumption in India, from which one can conclude that you can't really generalize about such things.

        1. re: luckyfatima

          What do you mean "no". You cited to an Indian sweet coffee drinking sub-culture and to no sweet coffee drinking culture outside of India. Thus, you statement that NRI must pick up their coffee drinking elsewhere was unsupported by your post and likewise unsupported by this post.

          "I was just giving my observations on coffee consumption in India" My turn (accurately I will add) No. You were positing on NRI behavior and the origins of such. It's one thinkkg to misunderstand what I said, but take a second look at what you said.

    2. Not to go too much off topic, but there are national tendencies--though, we shouldn't overgeneralize. I find that Germans, and Central Europeans (including Poles), tend to add no or little sugar/sweetener. Latin Americans, for example, tend to add 2-4 spoonfuls of sugar/sweetener. I can only think of 1 Chilean out of about 20 who doesn't put any sweetener in his coffee. Sorry, it's not about India, but I can easily imagine 5 packets, though 10 seems a bit over the top.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Wawsanham

        Thanks, that's interesting.

        Again, to both luckyfatima and Wawsanham, my post wasn't mean to stereotype any one particular ethnic group, I was just trying to understand why there *appears* to be some sort of belief that Indians prefer their coffees on the sweeter side.

        Yes, it was 10 packets. I watched him do it.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Usually our reference point is something based on our own experience or culture, so someone who never adds any sweetener thinks that a spoonful is really sweet. I guess I can imagine some "statistical outlier" dumping 10 packets, but as a common practice? Who knows, maybe 5 or 6 is common--for me, that would already be really sweet.

      2. I can't speak to coffee, but my Pakistan-born father puts two tablespoons of sugar in his mug of tea. I have never seen him drink coffee, but I imagine he'd probably sweeten that, too.

        1. Mr Pine was born/raised in India--when we first met (in the US) he'd routinely add 3 packs of sugar. Gradually decreased over the years, now down to 1. All the other Indian students with whom we were friends liked super sweet tea & coffee--one guy was probably closer to 6 packs. Mr. Pine's family--all stayed in India--routinely use 2-3 packs.

          Anecdotal, to be sure.

          1. Stereo-typing requires "generally speaking" about an entire people - it is in fact how it cvould be defined.

            3 Replies
            1. re: FrankJBN

              That's what I was trying to avoid. And if it offended anyone, or you in particular, then my apologies.

              I'm just really curious about this topic for some reason, and my post was not meant to negatively portray any one type of ethnicity or culture.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Indians love sweet things. Same with Indian desserts -- I find 90% of Indian desserts to be too sweet for me. The 2 dessert items I don't mind are rasmalai (milk solid dumplings in a milk/cream sauce) and gajrela (shredded carrots cooked in milk and sugar until the milk evaporates). Everything else I either don't eat, or I make myself at home with less sugar.

                I think Indian style coffee is much stronger than "western" coffee, so it needs more sugar than rregular coffee. The person putting 10 packets may have thought it was strong like indian coffee?

                1. re: boogiebaby

                  Agreed on the Indian desserts. I have a raging sweet tooth, and yet many Indian desserts are too sweet for me. Love rasmalai, but I usually make rasgullas, and I stop at the 1st simple syrup, don't both w/ the next, sweeter soak. Also make jeleibis, but also do them less sugared.