Just watching the barista at work sent me down memory lane. No No – I have not been a barista – atleast not in the true sense of the word. I’m talking about being catapulted into the world of steaming hot filter kaapis.
Filter kaapi or decoction kaapi is synonymous with just about every South Indian household. A coffee filter is essentially handed down to girls as they uproot themselves and leave their parental homes to “settle” into their in-laws homes after marriage.
What is it with the whole kaapi business, one might tend to ask. Well, making kaapi is nothing short of an art form. Especially with the filter and the decoction business. It is a skill which requires a rather large amount of knack peppered with quite a bit of deftness.
The entire process starts with a visit to the local coffee powder shop. During my childhood days, it used to be STM (Santacruz Tea Mart). Santacruz Tea Mart, much to my surprise, even today, is etched in memory. Those huge coffee bean grinders, that aroma of roasting coffee beans that invades the olfactory senses and sends the olfactory nerves into a total overload. That aroma which leaves one longing for a hot hot cup of kaapi right then and there. That fine brown coffee powder dust that used to settle all over the shop and much to my delight then, over the countertops too. Such a fine coating of coffee powder, invisible to the naked eye, yet something that one’s fingers could definitely “see”. Fine coffee powder dust which used to form the canvas to many of my doodles as we waited for the required blend of coffee beans to be powdered, weighed, mixed, sealed and delivered to us.
Those huge coffee bean grinders never failed to fascinate me. The utter casualness with which the coffee beans were poured into the grinders and the seeming ease with which the grinders crushed the coffee beans into “kaapi podi” (coffee powder) always unfailingly left me awed. The totally relaxed and airy attitude of the attendants in the shop was nothing short of amazing, for they always remembered exactly what combination of coffee beans each and every customer preferred. One look at my dad and the attendant would automatically reach for three different varieties of coffee beans and he would know exactly how many measures of each bean went into grinding the coffee powder that my dad normally bought. His own “made to order” kaapi podi. The kaapi podi that used to consistently create magic in a cup, time after time, over and over again, each morning.
My dad was the coffee in charge every morning. He would be the first one to wake up and make coffee for the entire household. Making coffee nowadays conjures up images of a bottle of instant coffee. But no. During my childhood days, instant coffee was nothing short of sacrilege. An insult, if you may, to good ole decoction kaapi – right out of the kaapi filter. Kaapi automatically meant “filter kaapi”.
There was one spoon which was slightly different from the other spoons, in that this particular spoon was more rounded than the other spoons at home. It was this spoon that had the honor of measuring out the kaapi podi into the kaapi filter every morning. That spoon would be set aside at night in readiness for the kaapi podi to be measured out the next morning. If that spoon were to go missing, trust me, all hell would have broken loose. It would have completely spoilt the rhythm, totally rocked the 'kaapi boat'.
Water for the kaapi filter used to be boiled separately in a steel vessel. Not the normal big vessel in which the drinking water was boiled by the litres. This was a much smaller vessel and only the amount of water required for the kaapi decoction was boiled with much ado, first thing in the morning. The kaapi spoon would come into play and a certain measure of kaapi podi would be spooned with utmost care into the filter. The same spoon would then be used to gently pat the kaapi podi into settling into the filter and the errant bits of the kaapi podi sticking to the sides of the filter would be dusted down with the spoon and patted into shape within the filter. By this time, the water would be bubbling and boiling and with some orchestra of its own (hot water sliding down a hot steel vessel does make a whole array of musical notes – very original) would be poured into the kaapi filter. The small steel lid of the kaapi filter would seal the filter and the delicious, rich aroma of ground coffee beans would fill the air, permeate the nostrils and make one anticipate and look forward to that first steaming hot cup of coffee, early in the morn.
The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. "Over The Teacups", 1891.
Yet again, no cup and saucer for this one. Filter kaapi in a glass with a davara to boot. Piping hot coffee in the glass which would be poured back and forth into and out of the davara for the coffee to slightly cool – just that wee bit so that the coffee did not end up burning ones palate. Each time the coffee would be poured out of the glass and into the davara and vice versa, the distance between both arms would increase constantly just that wee bit so that by the end of the process, it would seem as though the kaapi was being used by my dad as The Bullworker – workouts for the deltoids, biceps and the pectorals. Had this theory actually worked, my dad would have been lifting weights in the Olympic games !!!
Now if the whole process seemed smooth enough, trust me, it never was – atleast not when my dad was making the coffee. Now as fastidious as he was in making the coffee decoction, he was not really as finicky or fussy about the actual mixing of the coffee part. Nor was he very particular about how the other ingredients went into the coffee decoction.
After dad had finished making coffee for everyone in the morning, the kitchen platform would invariably resemble a large cake with sprinkles all over it. A few mini ponds of white liquid more commonly known as milk would also be seen pooling on the kitchen platform. In a few minutes, a few lucky ants would be seen merrily marching onto the kitchen platform to pick up the sugar cubes. I guess my dad thought that it would be good to begin the day by enforcing the “live and let live” policy to the fullest. Be Symbiotic, I guess was what he was trying to say. Live in harmony with the ants and other pesky pests which could be attracted to the sugar cubes. But symbiosis of this kind on a routine basis is, I guess, pretty exasperating. Needless to say, one look at the kitchen platform and my mom would go rather ballistic !
Ah ! What a way to begin the day .... steaming hot glass of filter kaapi and fireworks on the side !!
Whenever talk of kaapi comes up, I cannot help but recall what I’d once read somewhere about coffee.
“If you have never had coffee, you don’t know the real taste of life. Life is Bitter. Life is full of Flavor. And life should be enjoyed one cup at a time.”