Whenever he gets on the subject of filter coffee, Appa gets quite lyrical. He waxes poetic on how the decoction collects in a pool under the filter, drop by precious drop. How the milk is warmed gently, so as not to startle it, and then the decoction is poured into it in a steady stream. He describes how the concentrate blooms in brown ripples in the white milk. Then how the coffee is poured back and forth between utensils to warm it to tongue-blistering temperatures without allowing it to boil over, and to develop a thick froth on its surface. And then finally how it’s poured, masterfully, into a steel tumbler and must be drunk hot. Immediately.
But that is his description, not mine. For twenty three years, I’ve been able to take or leave coffee, as it comes. Indeed, my indoctrination into this coffee-drinking culture has been so subtle that I’ve only just realised it. But three months in Chennai, spent with relatives whose day doesn’t begin without a brimming tumblerful of coffee prepared just as described, made me appreciate its value. Recent events: an overload of work and a pleasant but time-consuming distraction, have made me cut down on sleep and so become more and more dependent on caffeine.
It has taken me a while and much experimentation, to decide exactly how I like my coffee. I tried it in Appa’s way. It wasn’t for me. His coffee was so hot I lisped for a week afterwards. Perima makes a smashing, perfect-temperatured cup of coffee, but she lives in Coimbatore: impractical for a weekday morning coffee run. Amma, with the best of intentions, is determined to make me drink as much milk as possible, and so adds far too much of it to my coffee. As for the cook’s coffee, ah, the less said, the better. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands, inspired by this recipe on Food52.
It was a weekend morning, humid and drizzly. Panda stared pensively out of the window while I boiled my water. We waited together for the decoction to percolate. When I finally had a little brown pool, I stirred in some brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. A generous clattering of ice cubes and a pour of milk later, it was ready.
I took a sip and I knew. I finally loved coffee.