Amma’s Coffee Day

Amidst all the known matters of division among mankind, I always like to include this: the coffee lovers and the tea lovers. But it is definitely one that cause no hate, just a difference in taste. Though there exists a huge population that does not prefer either of the two; it is a quite common difference we see in cities and villages alike. When we enter small hotels in the village side of Kerala, they welcome us with a “Chaaya? Kaappi??” ( “Tea or Coffee?”). The Indian Railway is one place where we can so beautifully experience this distinction. The coffee and tea vendors walk along the compartments like two marketing teams, trying to get maximum buyers for their product. This will go on forever till mankind finds yet another hot beverage that can be as good as these two (in my mind nothing can beat their goodness).

As for me, I have always been a coffee person. Not just for my Instagram bio; I have truly committed myself to the caffeine rich cup of happiness. The aroma seem to take me into a place that I would never want to leave. The taste of it makes me want to only have coffee for the rest of my life. I simply choose coffee over anything else. This applies to everything. Yes, if I am given an option to select a perfume and coffee is one of the picks, then its coffee or nothing. Ice creams, shakes, candles, shampoos and what not. If coffee is up on the list, then nothing else matters. Coffee in all ways is a ‘go’ from me. Cold, iced, black, hot, they are all love found in different shapes.

I believe this love was put in me through the small gulps of black coffee from my Amma’s early morning cup. She would slightly tilt the cup to help me have a bit of its taste. Then it just stayed. And never left. When life caught up like school and college exams, strong black coffee, very lightly sweetened, was what I could truly enjoy during the busy mornings and sleepless nights. As books and the knowledge they carried entered my days, I dreamt of becoming a Coffee-Cupper (Professional coffee taster). Exploring all the exotic varieties from around the world. Their exciting aroma, their inviting deliciousness and the love served in every cup would definitely keep me wanting for more. But the universe had other plans for me. I never became a Coffee-Cupper or anything coffee, but I never strayed from my love for the flavor and its magical calmness. A cup of well brewed coffee could help me relax more than anything else.

Woken up by my Old Lady

Home is always connected to the scents, tastes, flavours, textures and love that covers it all. Coffee is a major scene creator at my home. Although we live in a part of the Central Travancore area, there are quite a number of coffee trees at our home. Most of the trees are Arabica but we also have a couple of Robusta. My Amma ceremoniously collect the bean, dry, roast and grind them to brew that comfort cup of goodness. At a very younger age I was not much amused by the fact that we brewed our coffee from our own coffee produce. But later I realized that people were amused to find coffee trees in an area like ours. That is how the story of a broken business project unfolded from the memories.

My Appa and Amma somehow grew an interest in the whole process of coffee powder making. This led to the opening of ‘Vijay Coffee’ lovingly named after my younger brother. They invested on machines and staff to make the idea work. But neither had the business worthy minds and they were led more by their hearts. Hence like all stories of unfulfilled dreams end, our coffee saga also ended with rusted machines and dried up seals.

Though the idea failed, my parents never let go off the trees and decided to keep them for personal needs. Thus evolved the well organized process of coffee powdering in our home. Just for us to enjoy cups of the brewed goodness day in and day out. Or so I thought. But apparently it was just me who got smitten by the caffeine richness. Everybody else went on with the usual chai in the morning, chai in the evening and coffee occasionally kind of routine. I on the other hand was destroyed, to the senses of tea on my tongue. I was urging for coffee. At least a cup a day became my sense of duty as a coffee enthusiast. I knew nothing more about the beverage. Nothing about its chemical constituents or scientific significance. Nothing about its variants or particulars of its cultivation. I just knew my system needed this thing.

Ok! I’m simply ranting on about my love for the beverage. The real reason why I even started writing this is to show you how a simple lady like my Amma makes coffee with the very limited and ordinary equipment at our home. Lets check it out through a picture journey, something I captured during my time at home through the Covid 19 pandemic lock down. Now, please do not start counting on the mistakes she made and pointing it out how unscientifically she completed the task. This is too local but too close to heart for who I am.

After the coffee cherries are picked from the trees by any of the Chettan’s who help us in the land, they are kept in the sunlight for drying. This reduces the moisture inside the cherries and they shrivel. The bright red gives way to dry black and brown with vein like freckles running across them. These are then taken to the mill to be husked. Back at home, these are fanned or any remains from the husking will be removed by the most common method of winnowing familiar to the whole world. The beans are then roasted in the wood furnace in a large copper cookware commonly known as Uruli in Kerala. When the beans turn to a shiny texture and a color that makes my dear Amma’s mind and heart whispers a “GO”. By this time she would be smelling like freshly roasted coffee beans. One of the many scents I would relate her with. One of the scents that always makes me crave for her presence. Then the final part of this process will commence inside our kitchen. The roasted bean batches will be ground inside the very ordinary grinder. This is considered done after a set number of rotations my mother considers right. The ground powder is then sieved to see if it has reached the fineness of perfection. This continues till enough is stored up and rest of the beans are stored in air tight containers. By this time the entire house would be filled with the coffee flavoured air.

Right after the storing up, she calls it a day with one final step. Amma brews the first cup of coffee from the new batch of powder. She never (over) sweetens it and enjoys when steaming hot. Something very beautiful to watch. Literally seeing her enjoy the fruit of her labour. A proud barista if you ask me. My favourite and personal barista forever.

Always her sidekick

Now, take a look at the visuals:

The flowers are a true treat for the eye and their scent is so inviting. One that I would never get tired of. The trees flower right after the a dry weather. The flowers last only for 3-4 days, during which the fertilization would have completed and they drop to the ground. These white flowers among the dark green leaves look so beautiful. A painting, I have felt.
The coffee cherries are all red and ready to be picked. They are fleshy with the bean hidden deep inside. I have heard that birds and squirrels feed upon these if the plantation is not much taken care of. Thus giving mankind expensive strains like the Kappi Luwak and more. They would definitely enjoy the mild sweetness of the flesh.
The red clusters look so graceful and the light showers polish them clean to let them shine for us to enjoy. I can go on with these, but lets stop with the berries here.
Up the tree, stripping her off all the cherries.
Purushan Chettan right after the picking.
We do a single stripping as its labour intensive to do a selective picking. Perfection for Arabica will be in this selective picking with several passes over the same trees. But we are just a household of coffee people.
The roasting URULI.
Two favourite things in one picture: Amma’s hand and the freshly roasted coffee beans.
The winnowing. She shows much skill in this than what is shown in the video. 🙂 she got little conscious knowing that I was filming.
The grinding.
The sieving.
Storing in air tight containers.
The first brew.
The Barista steps out for a peace sip.

A cup of Amma’s coffee means much more than a hot beverage. It is even beyond my love for its scent or flavour. It is one of the many chords that she has attached to me. To make sure that I find my way back home, how ever far. Something to remind me that she is what I need after a long day of work, during a terrible day of period cramps. It is simply her comfort served hot in a cup. One that I would never get tired of.

Pardon me for the mistakes I would made in describing the technique or flavour. And again this is not a professional coffee making blog, just something very personal, something too indigenous to the place I very dearly call Home.

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