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Soooda oru cup coffee…

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Coffee moments revisited

A hiss, splutter and grumble later, a trickle of coffee reluctantly fills a paper cup. I think longingly of Pandian. Pandian, who would serve us steel thimbles of the beverage in office.

His arrival wiped the frowns off faces, stilled raised voices and buoyed up spirits. Ideas flowed, keyboards clattered with more josh, and bonhomie reigned, at least for a while. Reporters would swear that the timely appearance of Pandian, and the sound of clinking tumblers, lent zing to their stories.If you found the people at office irritable or nursing a sullen silence, you could safely assume that it was a no show from Pandian that day. A chrome and plastic coffee dispenser is a very poor substitute for the unfailingly courteous Pandian. As I mourn Pandian’s departure to greener pastures, other coffee preoccupations resurface.

Full of beans

Even now, as I make my provision list for the month and put down a branded coffee powder in it, I can’t help feeling my father-in-law would strongly disapprove. For the ‘right’ coffee podi he would change two buses, and walk miles to a hole-in-the-wall kadai where his precious powder was sold. “Pea berry and A kaapi,” he would declare in stentorian tones. There was a holy proportion to that, never to be tampered with. “I think that was the only kitchen concern he had. No one else would be allowed to buy the coffee,” recollects my mother-in-law. May be, that’s why the coffee, (be it Chetput in Chennai or Matunga in Mumbai), always tasted the same.

Nothing much has changed in the way my mom begins her day too. Her morning e-mails or phone calls to me invariably begin with Ippo daan coffee aachu. Have you had yours?” My response is a sunny affirmative or a short ‘no’, depending. We learnt early, my sister and I, that it was not a wise thing to cross mom’s path before she had downed her first cup. She tells us that it was the same with her mom too. “She would stand by the coffee grinder (that looked like a mini road roller with a tiny shutter), a thin towel protecting her pattu sari from any spills, sternly monitoring the beans.

Only she knew when it was just right to take the coffee beans off the stove and into the grinder. A little more or less would ruin it. Of course, the ‘first decoction’ would be her prerogative, combined with milk freshly drawn from the cows.”

A dose or two

If you were served with the rendaavadhu (second time around coffee) it was time you thought deep and hard about yourself. Rendaavudhu coffee is nothing but the decoction got from pouring hot water over the coffee dregs in the filter, after the ‘first’ decoction had been made. The result is watery, flavourless, brown slop. If you got that, your stock was really down with the family!

There was strict coffee etiquette, too. No self respecting household would stock coffee for more than a few days. If you could not roast and grind the coffee beans yourself, someone else did it for you. A cousin recollects how “A kaapi mama would come every three days bearing stacks of 150- to 200 gm packets of freshly ground coffee powder. Just enough for three days.”

An overflowing glass was considered bad manners. Chicory was also looked down upon. But with a large family, at month ends, one suspects, it would be added to the coffee now and then. Oh yes, there was a family of coffee filters for all occasions. From a mammoth, cavernous one for the weddings, births, and so on in the family, to a midget two-cup filter used on the rare occasions there were only two people at home.

By the way, there is a coffee worshipper I know who reveres the brew so much that her kaapi kottai machine finds pride of place in her kolu. And, a couple of my uncles composed an entire Hari Katha on coffee, complete with a story line, songs, etc.

Soooda oru cup coffee … magical words that subdue headaches, silence argumentative family and soothe agitated nerves.

They also create lasting bonds. Twenty two years ago, a newly wed, I watched as my husband’s maami carefully measured the decoction and steaming milk into a shiny steel tumbler davara and handed over the best-smelling coffee over to me. I became her fan for life. Nowhere else does the coffee taste the way it does at Sridevi Maami’s.

Except when Pandian makes it. Sigh…

PANKAJA SRINIVASAN

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