Image Courtesy: Triv.Rao Wikimedia
The smell just hypnotizes me as I walk on the streets of Matunga. One can smell the bitter-sweet smell of coffee powder, almost from the distance of a couple of kilometres. As I write my mouth salivates with the taste of that coffee with the perfect amount of sugar and foam. The hot coffee just touches my mouth – And I realize I am no where in Matunga, in fact I am really far away in Toronto!
All the kaapi dreams just disappear!
The first time, away from home in the US, I had coffee at Starbucks, then at Coffee bean and then of course at several chains! One by one, they all disappointed me – they were either too strong or too milky; there seemed to be no balance. Till I tried all of these versions, I never realized that I LOVED filter kaapi – not just in any way but with ‘Davra’ and ‘Tumbler’, and juggling of the liquid two feet away from the Davra to create the foam! I am not satisfied drinking it in a porcelain cup! It has to be a steel glass, otherwise, it is blasphemous!
Even when I don’t feel like drinking coffee, a walk through the memory lanes of Matunga bring to life the walks with my mother and my friends. I hear the sounds of “Erandu kilo” (Two kilos), at Mysore Concerns and the store owner pouring that beautifully-powdered, brown powder into a plastic bag and then stapling it. I usually stood at the second-hand book store close to the coffee powder store and heard these sounds and breathed these smells!
I grew up on filter Kaapi. I won’t be wrong if I called it my childhood companion. At my grandparents house, even today, whatever time it is, my uncle/s and aunt/s always ask, “Kaapi Venama (Do you want coffee)?” And the answer is usually an excited, ‘Venam (yes)!’ even at noon! And we don’t mind drinking small cups of coffee through the day! I remember my grandpa waking up at three in the morning and making the ‘decoction’ ritualistically for half-an-hour. Even at 3am the smell of that kaapi was hypnotising!
When I was a kid, that was usually my favourite morning meal – Filter coffee (made light, with more milk) and Parle G biscuits! I ate the biscuits to dip them into the coffee. Sometimes, I would dip as many as seven biscuits to see them melt and just keep that coffee in the glass for a longer time! Then the fun was in avoiding the crumbled biscuit to drink just the coffee and at the end, all the biscuits would float into the mouth in their liquid form! The biscuit just tasted better with coffee, or so I think.
Filter coffee-time also is a family get-together ritual on a daily basis. At around 3:30 – 4:00 pm, most Tamil families gather around for coffee. The fun chats go on for around half-hour to an hour with some savouries like ‘murrukkus’ and ‘Pokkodams’ – both made of rice flour. These are a part of most South Indian house holds, I must say and not just Tams. So I guess, filter kaapi is not just a hot drink, it is a hypnotizing, memory-evoking drink that somehow brings a lot of families together!
For a lot of people, coffee is a stimulant which keeps them awake. A lot of us South Indians who are used to drinking coffee on a regular basis might laugh at that, because we drink it even before we go to bed! Not exaggerating, some of us sleep better after drinking coffee. (All of this has changed since I stopped drinking it in between because of being abroad. Now it does keep me awake! 🙁 )
How to make that divine Kaapi:
It’s strange how all of these things come to light when we are away from the familiar environment. This is a clear case of ‘distance making the heart grow fonder’. I tried once, carrying half-kg of Mysore Concerns coffee powder to LA and I was so protective of it that I made it only a few times. I smelt it more often and felt happy. But I didn’t know then that its smell and strength fades away as time passes. But I still didn’t throw it, I drank it to finish the packet!
Don’t I get filter coffee in South Indian restaurants here? Well, no, not the same. Here in Toronto and also in LA I have tried the ‘fake’ filter kaapis, which are usually Bru or Nescafe packaged as ‘Filter coffee’! I don’t know why these restaurants disappoint a poor soul with such ‘counterfeit’ coffee! I now refuse to drink coffee anywhere other than at ‘Minerva’ in Hyderabad, or any restaurant in Matunga or in Chennai or at homes of other South Indians. But I have to make a visit for my beloved filter kaapi and I am quite willing to travel the distance for ‘Dosai and Kaapi’ combo! Ahh! There I salivate again!