Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Coffee Klatch

Sorry, no gossip, really, even if it was implied in the title.
But this is a discourse on coffee, and my adventures with coffee making over the years.
I grew up in a household where coffee of the South Indian style reigned king. When I was old enough to drive into town, I would stand in the long line at Sankar's Coffee House, a tiny shopfront that still barely survives, as they widen M.G. Road beyond recognition. The fragrance of roasted coffee emanated from the machine jostling with the counter. We all stood inhaling for our caffeine kick of the trip.
My mother would state "500 Arabica, 400  Robusta and 100 chicory" (all in grams), while my father stood ready to whip out his wallet and pay. The beans would be measured and poured in, along with the requisite quantity of chicory, the roasted and ground coffee pour out from the dispenser, directly into a recycled newspaper bag.
Of course, I learned the traditional way of preparing drip coffee, using the stainless steel coffee filter, in due time. My mother had introduced me to the art of savoring coffee once I reached the 11th standard and was starting to need the caffeine boost as I got through my day.
For a short halcyon period, we had vegetable vans and coffee vans coming to our little neighborhood, before the grocers decided it was no longer economical. I would line up near the coffee van and proudly echo the same order of "500 Arabica, 400 Robusta and 100 chicory".
A few years later, moving to the U.S., I struggled to find a suitable replacement for the filter coffee that I had so loved. The brews that I tried creating with supermarket staples such as Maxwell House and Folgers were far too weak, because of the coarser grind that was designed for the standard coffee machines and their watery thin bitter brews. I packed away my filters and switched to the heresy of granulated coffee, mixed in with a scalding hot cup of milk and sugar.
Occasionally, a visitor from India would beg for 'filter coffee', but I would improvise, even going to the extent of pouring the coffee I served them to make it froth, and not divulging the fact that it wasn't using a proper coffee decoction.
Of late, I finally gave the stovetop Espresso maker a try. In this, the water goes in the base pot, and as it evaporates, the steam is forced through a packed layer of standard 'filter coffee' (Bru, from the Indian grocery store), and generates a passably thick decoction that now seems rather heavy on the chicory content and light on the coffee. At last, a potential good substitute for the 'filter coffee' that has been out of my life for so long.
(UPDATE: After a few rounds with the Bru, I realize that the old proportions which I was used to still have no match in taste. Bru is 53% Arabica and 47 % Chicory! Eek. So much for the vaunted 'Madras coffee' flavor. It's too mild for my taste now.)
Maybe some day, I can even march up to one of the specialty coffee places in the mall and place my order for a custom '500 Arabica, 400 Robusta and 100 chicory, filter grind'.


Lekhni said...

Have you tried Starbucks coffee powder, or grinding up Starbucks beans?

Sujatha said...

Actually, I find Starbucks too strong, especially the one from the coffee service at work. I might try buying a packet and grinding it to a Turkish grind at our local supermarket, and then cutting them in with the right proportion of chicory. But I'm sure it will all be Arabica, not Robusta, since the latter isn't available, being considered a lesser quality, cheaper variety.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

took my mind back to the coffee making ritual in my house. we used to order peaberry coffee(believe me -the best in the world) from the estates of our relatives in our hometown in midtravancore highlands. even as a 5 yrs old i used to roast them. it was fun,. the roasting machine was a small cylindrical metal container suspended horizontally on an ingenius metal stand which provided for embers. once the fire was lit, i used to beg my mom to allow me to rotate it holding the handle attached to one flat side of the cylinder. the roasting done, a small quantity is crushed. the first decoction made out of this is simply out of this world.
whenever i think of that divine aroma and taste, i wish we hadnt progressed this far - -

Sujatha said...

Nice photo, Kochuthresiamma- glad to see you for the first time.

I do faintly recall my mom getting peaberry blended with arabica, until they no longer carried it at the store. As it turns out, we got accustomed to the harsher higher caffeine boost of the Robusta blend, even as it seems to be seriously maligned by coffee aficionados as lowly in comparison to the smooth taste and flavor of Arabica.
Peaberry, as I read about it, is the rounded beans from the crop, no more than 5% of the typical output from any estate, so you were in fact tasting the 'creme de la creme' of the coffee crop ( How's that for mixed metaphors;)