Coffee and the Paper is a series of blogs where I take a break from my travels and explore local media and local brews.
I recently returned from a trip to Kerala. A south Indian state nicknamed “God’s Own Country” for its stunning and diverse natural beauty, it is also famous for its coffee plantations and rich traditional filter coffee. With that in mind, I picked up a copy of The New Indian Express, settled into a bumpy, winding descent from the hill station of Munnar to the backwaters of Alleppey, and dreamed of the coffee waiting me at artsy cafes in Kerala’s capital Kochin.
Newspaper: The New Indian Express
Established: Not specified, though their website mentions they have been in existence for over 80 years.
Edition: Kottayam, September 25, 2014
Price: 6 rs
Where I bought it: A news stand across from the bus station in Munnar.
Sections: 7 (Travancore, Kerala, India, Mindspace, World, Business, Play)
Top Stories: India successfully completes its Mars Orbiter Mission, Kerala’s government eased taxes on water and upped taxes on luxury cars, and two backwater villages in Alleppey increased their harvesting of mussels and other foods.
- The successful Mars Mission was initially started under the helm of a Keralite, so a good chunk of the paper was devoted to celebrating the achievement as it related to locals. Interesting facts about this mission: India was the first nation to successfully orbit a spacecraft on its first attempt, and its tiny budget ($74 million) was less than the budget of the movie “Gravity” ($100 million).
- The Communist Party of India, which has a major presence in Kerala, is aiming to boost membership after many party followers have drifted away in recent years, many going to the now-in-power BJP party.
- Spices, a major source of revenue for Kerala, have seen a big rise in recent months, hitting over 40,000,000 rs in four months. Chilies and mint remain the most popular exports.
Overall thoughts: The New Indian Express is smaller and definitely more local than other papers I have read in India (the Times of India, Deccan Chronicle, etc), but it makes up for that with gusto covering its region. The coverage of the Mars Orbiter Mission was fascinating—it really put a human face on this incredible achievement. Six of the seven scientists that spearheaded the project were Malayalis (the term for people who speak Malayam, the language in Kerala), and a Keralite was head of the ISRO when the project was first launched. The paper also described the scene in Bangalore when the mission turned out to be a success, and included a fun sidebar on the interactions between NASA and the ISRO on Twitter. That pride was definitely apparent in Kerala too—in Munnar we saw an entire school parading around town with posters celebrating the mission.
That being said, I still hoped for more context of certain events. Kerala is currently closing nearly all of its alcohol shops, which are already run by the government, in an effort to curb alcoholism. It is an interesting decision, definitely one that a lot of other states in India are watching, and it would have been good to see more coverage of the issue. This edition only had a small piece about the slump in sales due to closings. Which does seem relatively obvious. But considering this was the only edition I have read, I would imagine they are doing more coverage of the effectiveness of this policy.
Coffee: Filter coffee from Kashi Art Café in Cochin
We had about four hours to kill in Cochin before our bus to Tamil Nadu, and I heard that Kerala’s capital, Cochin, had a lot of artsy cafes filled with backpackers and locals alike. A quick google search over a delicious lunch (I could go on and on about Kerala’s incredible cuisine…) yielded Kashi Art Café, a gallery/coffee shop in the Fort Cochin backpacker’s district. At the end of a narrow, clearly colonial era street filled with hostels and homestays, wooden doors open to a stark gallery with wall art and sculptures, which leads to a cool garden café. The entire café felt a bit like a piece of art itself, with gray slate tables, a jasmine tree that wound its branches to the roof and dropped fragrant petals on my laptop keyboard, and cozy corners where groups of friends, families, and travelers munched on chocolate café and cold coffee. Opening the menu, I immediately saw what I had been searching for in Kerala: home-ground, hand roasted French press coffee. I gleefully ordered, ready to be caffeinated. The coffee was incredible—rich but medium bodied, a hint of berries and toffee. I was a little too intoxicated by it—by the end of our café session I was wired and jittery (but ready for another cup).