This was to be a gallery of photos that make me happy (for the weekly photo challenge), but I couldn’t get all the ones I wanted, so I have settled on a write-up and one photo of one of the things that make me happiest. The photo above was taken at the local coffee shop that opened in my office complex a few months ago.

My earliest fascination with coffee started in a Lebanese Roastery, where we had landed because of my father’s quest for a release from the bondage of Instant Coffee.The ugly, black, thick amorphous powder had the most heavenly smell that ever permeated this earth.It was the drug that made everything alright with the world again. My father loved his coffee and has passed that on in huge dollops to my brother and me.

In my teenage years, I was enthralled by ancient Rome and their gods, and by extension, modern day Italy as well, and their notorious mobsters enshrined in the collective psyche of human kind by Marlon Brando. It was the last year of school, the year when every action was stamped with the legend “on the eve of going to college”. My first coffee was a cappuccino, albeit from a vending machine, Italian and “on the eve on going college”. It was a beautiful promise of the things to come.

Endless college days, carefree and aglow in the shade of the promise of everything, Four years of under graduate life gave me friends, freedom, a lifelong vocation, and the sure shot cure of splitting headaches, which I discovered at the Indian Coffee House on our University campus. The ICH was the last bastion where the “bearers” still wore elaborate turbans, starched white uniforms and made excellent coffee, not to mention at a price the perpetually broke under grad could afford. Don’t get fooled by the name though, ICH is a restaurant chain,and still offers the tastiest meals for the paisa.

Having adventurous and richer-than-you friends has it’s perks, and when they visit you, during the season when cafes was becoming all the rage, where else to take them except to most exotic one in South Bombay? As we sat there, on my first visit to a cafe, drinking bright hued liquids, gazing at a guitar in the corner, shifting from one corner to a more convenient one as the crowd dwindled, talking, talking, recklessly abandoning the passage of time and the shackle of the last train home. Another life realisation – If coffee was my Holy Grail, the coffee shop was my Jerusalem.

Several years later, Canada blew in, with it’s undergrounds streets, beautiful shop windows, snowy pavements, microscopic parks, even tinier dogs, audacious hairstyles and the friendliest people on earth that I had met. And perhaps with the most coffee shops per capita in the world. A country whose memories fail to erase themselves from that corner of my heart labeled pleasant. Mochas, Lattes, Espressos, Macchiatos found it’s way into everyday vocabulary, and visiting a coffee shop, some times alone, sometimes with a book, some times with a dear friend is a way of life Toronto taught me.

When I came to Chennai, I came full circle. Filter kaapi, that had opened the eyes of my father to the potent joy of the coffee bean, was now mine to enjoy. Traditional filter coffee is made with a device, which looks like 2 cups stacked, one over the other. Coffee powder and chicory is stacked into the upper cup and boiling water is poured over this, and the brewed coffee is allowed to slowly drip into the cup below. The resulting brew is potent and is traditionally consumed by adding milk with the preferred amount of sugar. South Indian coffee is typically served after pouring back and forth between the dabarah (a wide metal saucer with lipped walls) and the tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand. Along with cooling the hot coffee, this produces the landmark froth of the filter kaapi. You never really experience Chennai, till you drink coffee from the dabarah 🙂

My parents still stop at ICHs on their long drives. My uncle still stops at Tim Hortons on his long drives. My brother still loves his first ‘real’ job, at Mugg & Bean, and I still recklessly throw time to the wind and tell long, rambling, soul searching stories whenever I meet up with an old friend at a coffee shop.

“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.”