Ever Heard of ‘By Two’ Coffee?

This is something fun and unique to Bangalore

Photo by Anu Anniah

Bangalore is a melting pot of multiple cultures. The standing joke in Bangalore is that if you are an outsider, we will talk to you in your language. We are very accommodating that way. An average Bangalorean knows at least 4–5 languages and will gladly learn yours too.

With this level of what we call ‘adjustment’ rampant in our psyche, you’d expect that we must be a mishmash of cultures with nothing unique. Luckily, no!

There are several things that are uniquely Bangalorean and have remained that way. One of my favorites is the concept of by two coffee.

What does ‘by two’ mean?

Exactly what it sounds like — buy one coffee and split it among two people. In most cultures, this sort of thing would be strange. Out here, it is commonplace.

You can walk into any of the hundreds of local fast-food joints fondly known as darshinis, and ask for a by two coffee. The guy serving coffee (or tea) will not bat an eyelid.

Typically, a cup of strong hot filter coffee in any fast-food restaurant costs anywhere between Rs.20 — Rs.50. Sometimes friends saunter in for a snack and coffee, and they really don’t want a full glass of coffee. That’s when the convenient concept of by two kicks in. If 4 friends are sharing, then the instruction to the coffee-maker becomes two by four. If there is an odd assortment of people, say 3 friends come along, then the instruction becomes two by three — that is to split two cups of coffee into 3 glasses.

Watching the making of coffee is a sensory experience

The guy at the counter whips out two glasses (or three or four, depending on the order) and puts them on the counter.

Then he starts the mesmerizing process of serving coffee. He pours molten dark brown coffee decoction into both glasses. The decoction fills about one-fourth of each glass. Looking at that rich, frothy, dark coffee is enough to tingle your senses.

Next, he scoops up milk from a cauldron of steadily boiling milk. He pours the milk into the cauldron and scoops it up again. He does this twice to work up a nice froth. Meanwhile, your salivary glands are getting into overdrive.

As the last step, he pours this super hot and super frothy milk into the waiting glasses. As milk unites with coffee decoction, the aroma and the milky steam envelope your nose and entrap your soul. You just stop short of drooling at the deeply sensory visual and olfactory experience of it all.

And two glasses of perfectly brown heady brew are ready. The brew defies physics since the froth sits a good one inch above the glass. You blow gently at the froth and take that first sip and immediately reach coffee heaven.

By two is as good as by one

Here’s the most mind-boggling part. When you ask for by two coffee you expect half a glass of coffee, right? When the guy finally hands you your share of by two coffee, the glass is full to the brim. How does he do that? How does he divide one full glass of coffee into two halves, yet serve two glasses full to the brim and threatening to spill over? By two coffee defies physics and maths in equal measure.

One has to marvel at the memory power and math skills of the guy serving the coffee. These folks are absolutely unerring. They process all instructions and dole out the right amounts of coffee, regardless of how many people are in the queue. I have heard no one complain they got less or someone else got more coffee in their glass. The measurement is perfect, down to the last bubble in the froth.

There you have it! Bangalore’s unique by two or two by three or two by four coffee math!

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