I am a filter coffee lover. My husband would disagree and replace ‘lover’ with ‘addict’. As far as I am concerned, I have evolved enough to discard judgements aimed at me. Coffee does not go well with my system. My relationship with the beverage is like Mark Twain’s association with smoking. For the record: “Leaving Coffee is very easy. I’ve done it many times”. Presently, I have restricted myself to half a cup of filter kaapi in the morning. Usually, after my morning workout, I go to meet my second set of parents (read in-laws). The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafts in their house. The alluring smell renders me incapable of keeping any resolve. Somedays, when dad asks if I’ll have it, I say ‘no’ and avoid looking in the direction of the kitchen where he would have placed several shiny steel tumblers waiting to receive the first decoction nectar. More often, I reluctantly agree to have just half a cup. That way, I remain in the “sin committed, but not really” quadrant. Only true blue filter coffee lovers know the sudden buoyancy in spirit when a steaming hot, frothy golden brown and white liquid is served. Okay, I am already beginning to feel and sound like an addict.
The Art of Selection
The Tamil heartland has perfected the art of coffee making and coffee buying. It is a meticulous exercise worthy of a TED talk. First, correct beans have to be identified. My family prefers peaberry and plantation. Then you decide the ratio of coffee and chicory. Chicory is an aromatic herb added for flavour and colour. It also brings the overall expenditure down by a few dimes. However, filter coffee connoisseurs ought to know their ratio preference like the back of their hand. And people do. Some prefer a 70-30 combo; others prefer an 80-20 mix. The filter coffees in the market typically go with a 60 (coffee) 40 (chicory) combination. Most filter coffee purists turn up their noses at the Nescafes and Brus of the world. People will try their combinations from different shops till they settle down on the one they can call ‘mine’. It’s a big decision. After all, your morning mood and bowels depend on it.
Do you dare to make decoction?
The process of making decoction is very precise. With sharp observation and devotion, one can master it in a lifetime. The coffee powder is put in a filter, and hot water is poured on top. Here’s the catch: too little water will result in a sludgy mixture and no decoction, while too much of it will make the decoction runny. Like Buddha said, ‘moderation is the key, my friend.’ After that, you wait for a few minutes till the elixir of life collects in the lower part of the filter.
Meanwhile, fresh milk (read it again, FRESH milk) is brought to a boil. One must ensure that the milk is not boiled before the decoction is ready. Now, some decoction is poured in an empty tumbler. Sugar can be added at this point. Some people like coffee without sugar and milk, often pontificating ‘black like midnight, bitter as sin’. Thank you very much. I like mine with sugar and milk. Now comes the most crucial part. In quick movements, the decoction is poured back and forth in two tumblers to work the froth. Once you have risen enough froth with your acrobatics, pour hot milk on top. Your authentic filter kaapi is ready.
*** The tips and tricks shared here are incredibly exclusive. You now have access to a closely guarded family secret.
Filter coffee lovers know the first decoction from the second or third. In fact, they would try to avoid anything after the second decoction, which is also a compromise by their standard. You can easily spot them in south Indian restaurants asking for more decoction or thick decoction and sugar by the side. Most importantly, they know the best place to get coffee: HOME. You are invited to our home any time for a cuppa. Not gloating, I am reasonably good at making it:)
I am closing this write-up with a poem inspired by my physically and mentally distraught state when I try quitting coffee. By the by, the poem is part experience and part imaginary. Not everything listed there happens to me; however, I am documenting the pain of many:)
Don’t talk to me
Or gawk and stare
I didn’t have coffee
I am still not there—
I am caught in the scents of the morning brew
I am yet to come out satisfied from the loo.
I am a doddering zombie in broad daylight.
I am bleary-eyed, not fit for a fight.
While you perk up with the morning rays
I suffer a headache that’s here to stay.
Of all the humanity that’s praising light
I am the one in perpetual night.
Do not talk
For Heaven’s sake
I didn’t have coffee,
I am not awake.
(My poem is modelled on “Don’t stand at my grave”, an absolute gem. You may read it here.)