It was a Sunday morning. In the mood for a light and flavorful breakfast, my husband and I drove down to the hub of authentic South Indian cuisine in Mumbai – King’s Circle in Matunga.
As we managed to find a table for two in one of the popular cafes there, we were hit by the eclectic environment – a heterogeneous mix of people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, ages, and even nationalities, bonding over the love for food. A relentless flow of orders, loud and palpable conversations on life goals and disruptive innovations, staff serving across tables juggling plates and glasses skillfully in both hands, customers laughing, thoroughly enjoying multiple servings and aromas.
Choosing to go with the local favorites, we requested a plate of kotte kadubu, soft and fluffy conical idlis steamed in jackfruit leaves, and the sweet and supple Pineapple sheera. As we polished off the dishes leaving our plates squeaky clean, I knew instinctively that a cuppa of freshly brewed filter coffee was all I needed to sign off the gastronomic delight. I could smell its wafting fragrance from a distance.
Ah, filter coffee! It is such a delectable drink. Despite being an ardent consumer of kadak adrak ki chai (strong ginger tea), there is something special about filter coffee – its dark color, frothy layer on the surface, rich texture, intense aroma, and the vintage vibe.
It struck me that for no real reason, it had been a very long time, probably years together, since I had ‘filter coffee’. Instant, espresso, French press, latte, cappuccino et al, but not filter coffee. Sure enough, I ordered a cup, and was elated to receive it in the traditional stainless-steel tumbler placed inside a wide-mouthed container.
As I lifted the tumbler, inhaled the distinct aroma, poured the coffee into the container, and moved it in circular motion to cool it down, I felt a sense of nostalgia beginning to envelop me. And as I took the first sip, I found myself time travelling to Coonoor, a bustling hill station close to Ooty, in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu.
I saw my adolescent self, wearing a cap on my head, sports shoes on, stuffing some eats in my backpack. Come Sunday, my father and I would be ready to leave for day-long hikes, sometimes covering more than twenty kilometers. We’d walk through tea gardens spanning different shades of green, cross streams and patches of wild red berries, and enjoy an occasional drizzle. Once we also saw a feisty snake slithering away.
As both of us love a bit of adventure, we’d often abandon the concrete road or even any half-baked track, and start ascending a hill or trek over a cascade. Because of such detours, we’d often find ourselves in the middle of nature’s raw beauty. I particularly remember landing up in a canopy of magnificently tall eucalyptus trees, emitting a sweet and minty fragrance, casting long shadows behind us. In those moments, I felt that Alice in Wonderland was not a work of fiction. All along, my father narrated stories of his childhood, tales of his hostel days at Belgaum Military School, life at our native village, our ancestral home, and my late grandmother. Like a sponge, I absorbed his stories with rapt attention (just as I do today), often registering life lessons subconsciously.
But there was one constant feature in our long hikes. In the last few kilometers, somewhere in the terraced hills, we’d always take a particular road to reach home. On that road was a stall of a dosas and filter coffee, locally called ‘Madras Kaapi.’ It was run by a middle-aged ever smiling Tamil lady who’d make the crispiest paper dosas on this planet! Coupled with hot sambhar and fresh chutney, and intermittent sips of kaapi, I don’t think any of us kept count of the number of dosas we ate! And the more we ate, the more she’d serve them to us lovingly – seeing the father-daughter duo come to her after a long day’s hike.
With every cell of our bodies well exercised and satiated, we’d cross the last rivulet, collect a pebble or two, and wash our feet in the cold playful current. As we neared home, I’d be so excited to see my mother – and there she would be – standing in the porch with a beaming smile and open arms.
I looked at my container. The filter coffee had turned cold.
But that didn’t matter.
A single sip had warmed my heart in a way I had never expected. Now I truly understand my love for filter coffee. It’s way beyond the sensory experience. It’s deep rooted. It’s a relationship.
This article was published at Spark.