I have been searching for that perfect cup of coffee since aeons. Now, I really shouldn’t be, as I grew up in a South Indian household, with the tantalising smell of filer kaapi (coffee) wafting through the house every morning. We had started out with the traditional, double compartment steel filter, graduating to the electric filter. The electric filter speeded up the process. If earlier we used to drink warm to hot coffee, now it was piping hot.
Once I was deemed old enough to drink coffee, I drank it every day. Somehow, my world righted itself when I held that cup of coffee in my hands. It was not just a beverage, but it was the comforting embrace of roots, traditions and habit. That strong, milky, sugary, coffee was just so home!
After marriage I discovered to my utter dismay that my new hubby drank tea in the morning. But I who mocked him, was soon drinking tea myself. Somehow, tea was the easier beverage to make, and I just didn’t have the patience and time to make that cup of filter coffee, just for me. Like so many other small and familiar rituals, this too fell by the wayside. It seemed easier to let go of the old, in the eagerness to embrace the new. Once in a way I cheated by making Bru Instant, which kind of satisfied my coffee soul. (To Nescafe aficionados, I say this – try Bru Instant just once!)
When we moved to Mumbai fifteen years ago, though we lived in Colaba, I made Matunga my own haunt. And I soon acquired a steel filter from Soham store, and the filter coffee powder from Mysore Concerns, both in Matunga. Yet, I rarely brewed it. I was experimenting with varieties of tea by then. My buying the coffee filter was more a cursory salute to the past. Waiting for the decoction to trickle down and then have lukewarm coffee was not my cup of..er, coffee at all. Or so I thought.
This is when Sachin got hit with the Nespresso craze. He acquired the machine and the coffee capsules, which came in their own sleek box, with the different flavours marked out, almost like a jewellery catalogue. Every day, while he fiddled with the Nespresso machine, a half cup of very hot milk, a spoon, and a sachet of Stevia were set on a tray next to the machine. Sachin would pop the coffee capsule into the machine, after much deliberation over which flavour to have that particular morning. It was a grand performance, which Sachin insisted was just about worthy of Nespresso. He achieved coffee nirvana after each such ritual. I think it was more the ritual, and less the beverage, which put him there.
I just couldn’t bring myself to like Nespresso. None of the flavours appealed to me. But what it did do was kickstart my coffee yearnings. I started having the filter coffee when I could, and Bru when I was rushed. Since I like my coffee with milk and loads of sugar, I had it infrequently…hitting the 40s does have its downside. I can’t abide the taste of sweeteners like Stevia, Splenda, and I would much rather have coffee with sugar on weekends, rather than with these artificial sweeteners daily.
The advent of Starbucks into Mumbai was a milestone as much for our household, as it was for that august Organisation! Sachin discovered that he could also order a cup of Starbucks coffee through Swiggy, which I found amazingly wasteful. I offered to make him as much coffee as he needed, especially for the late nights up working or watching football on the telly. But of course, he wouldn’t be satisfied with Bru or filter coffee. He soon raided Foodhall and got decaf coffee, which frankly flummoxed me. It wouldn’t load him with caffeine and yet would give him the caffeine kick, he explained to me seriously. A coffee, which really isn’t coffee…hmmm.
Meanwhile, I was having my own palate evolution. Last November, while holidaying in Perast, Montenegro, I discovered by accident, Nescafe’s 1+2 instant coffee, which just needed sugar to be added. I discovered that adding a spoon of milk made it even more delicious. In the wintry cold of those November mornings, it gave me the greatest joy to sit with a cup of that coffee, gazing out to the beautiful Kotor Bay enveloped in pleasing stillness. But I couldn’t source enough of it before we left Montenegro. A search in Mumbai stores didn’t yield that particular combination. It was left to a dear friend to get it for me from Hong Kong, and I enjoy that coffee occasionally.
That said, I have realised that my love for filter kaapi will never fade. A trip to Matunga even today means snacking at Mysore Cafe or Madras Cafe, rounding off the meal with piping hot filter coffee served in the steel tumbler and davra. You cool the coffee by pouring it back and forth between the tumbler and the davra from a height, which also generates a pleasing froth. Just look at the rich colour of this wonderful filter kaapi!
Today, one can even find herbal coffee to beat all herbal teas! And as many varieties of coffee as there are probably coffee drinkers, I guess. So the next time I want to drink coffee or Sachin does, I have an array in my house – Bru Instant, Nescafe 1+2, filter coffee, Decaf, Nescafe Gold, Nespresso, even Turkish coffee. If all these fail, I will head to Matunga, while Sachin can fall back on Starbucks, of course.