January 12, 2010

The Coffee Maker On Car Street, Udupi



K. H. Upadhyay has two old coffee machines in his shop on Car Street, Udupi. The locally made coffee grinder, its hopper painted red, is placed to one corner of the shop, by a wooden chair in front of a cupboard stocking among other provisions the 501 brand washing soap bars wrapped in yellow packing. The coffee roaster is to the back of the shop, worn from use and rusting as much from age as from lack of use. I cast another glance at the bars of 501 washing soap. Growing up I remember asking for the soap thus: "Ek Paanch Sau Ek dena."

“The coffee roaster at the back of the shop, I do not use now. I have a new one back home,” he explained as he accompanied me to the dark, airless room where the rusting coffee roaster stood, its hopper empty of coffee beans and the chimney silent.


Abandoned to time, abandoned to memory, and where coffee beans once rolled rhythmically when the cooling tray rotated, filling the store with fragrance of freshly roasted coffee beans, the coffee roaster now finds use for its cooling tray as storage space to hold empty plastic bags among other things!


He pulled out the metal trier from its slot under a small, circular transparent window that allowed the coffee maker to peer in while the machine roasted coffee beans. The trier was fashioned with a knob at one end and one half of cylindrical section open at the other so when the coffee maker drew it out along came a sampling of coffee beans that he would check for quality of roasting before deciding to either continue with roasting them or let the roasted coffee beans flow into the circular cooling tray on the outside that rotated, cooling the beans evenly.

“This machine can roast 10 kilos of coffee beans. We usually roasted 7 kilos at a time, which typically took about 16 minutes,” he said.

A temperature panel indicating temperature is consulted and once the temperature reaches the desired level the coffee beans are dropped from the hopper into the roasting drum that rotates, roasting the beans evenly. Every once in a while the coffee maker draws the trier to check on the quality of roasting.


Coffee is fresh when roasted and ground at the point of sale. In a large steel container on the floor roasted coffee beans lent fragrance to the shop. Upadhyay reached into the container and held out for me Arabica coffee beans in his open palm.

“I source raw coffee beans from Chikamangalur and roast them depending upon demand at my shop. Some prefer to buy roasted beans while others prefer to buy ground coffee,” he said. “Roasted Arabica coffee beans sell for Rs. 260/- a kilo.”

Chikmangalur (also spelled Chikmagalur) lies to the south-west of Karnataka, a little over 170 kilometres from Mangalore and is credited with the origin of coffee in India about 350 years ago. Apparently a Muslim pilgrim by the name of Baba Budan smuggled a few beans while on pilgrimage to Mecca and planted them in is garden in the Chandra Drona hills on his return to Chikmagalur. The hills are now named after him.


We had stopped by K.H. Upadhyay’s shop to explore locally made farsan stacked on the counter to the front of the shop before happening upon the coffee grinder and roaster inside. Chaklis, Fried Banana Chips, Onion Papad among other things rose from the counter obscuring Upadhyay’s face when we first stepped up to the counter.

Around the bend from Upadhyay’s store the revered Shree Krishna Mutt rises above the shops in quiet grace. With thousands of devotees descending on Udupi to visit the Shree Krishna Math each year they find use for the general provisions that Upadhyay stocks in his store besides farsan and coffee. Twin-blade shaving kits, toothbrushes and toothpaste are displayed prominently on the wall while detergent and washing soaps fill up shelves.


K. H. Upadhyay inherited the shop from his father. The shop is over 40 years old while the coffee roaster is half the age.

The Upadhyays are Brahmins. While the surname is not restricted to Karnataka it is not as common in the state either.


Across the street from the coffee maker’s shop and adjacent to the Chandramouleshwara temple is Bhaskar Tailoring House for ladies. Two elderly male tailors sit at their sewing machines located at opposite ends of the shop. A cupboard placed in the center doubles up as a counter to conduct dealings with customers while another glass cupboard to the back holds clothing material on shelves, dresses sewn awaiting their owners, dresses awaiting sewing, and possibly dresses that were stitched but never picked up.

Abandonment is a recurring theme in old shops in old localities. And time threatens spaces with obscurity resulting from their abandonment.

32 comments:

Nisha said...

Anil, you've woven a wonderful story.

The old types ladies tailor shops are fast diminishing from metro cities. So much personal touch.

Grannymar said...

I love this post, it really gives the feel of the place. When I was young there was a Coffee house and shop in Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland. In one of the windows stood a huge coffee roasting machine. Everyday the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans met you at the bottom of the street. It practically called you to come drink some coffee. As someone interested in all things sewing, I would love to mooch around that Tailors shop for an hour or more.

bobbie said...

Mmmm I can smell the coffee roasting.

The tailor's shop reminds me of shops here that I remember as a child, though I doubt any are in existence now. I miss that atmosphere, and the friendly service that customers received.

Sarah Laurence said...

Welcome back and Happy New Year! I have been looking forward to a new post for weeks and was not disappointed. You bring so much color and warmth into my snowbound world. I love how you find beauty in the ordinary, such as these coffee machines. Now I want coffee from our local place – the bean are imported but roasted locally.

Anil P said...

Nisha: Thank you. Ladies Tailors shops are not as common now, and nor are Gents Tailors shops, more so in cities and 'emerging' towns.

I agree. There sure was much personal touch with the tailor one frequented.

Grannymar: Thank you. I can imagine how pleasing it must have been to walk past the shop you mention and take in deep breaths of morning air to refreshing aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans.

I'm sure they wouldn't mind :-)

Bobbie: Ready-made garments mass-produced have depressed margins that tailors of yore could hope to profit by, denting their survivability in their profession.

I can identify with the friendly service you mention. Typically they would in turn be called 'family tailor' by families who had their clothes stitched by a tailor for years on end.

Growing up I remember getting my clothes (shirts and trousers) stitched by a gentle, Keralite tailor, friendly smiles and all.

In time the tailors would get to know the family and would likely be updated with family happenings as well.

Sarah Laurence: Thank you. The welcome means much. Wish you a happy new year too.

A long travel preceeded the new year.

It's indeed a pleasure to learn you enjoyed this post. There's so much happening when out on an Indian street, all the while.

I keep hearing of how winter has left parts of the US snowbound. I hope it's been not too difficult where you live. While beautiful I can imagine how being snowbound must make a cup of steaming coffee a welcome spring moment.

radha said...

I remember seeing the 'Goli Soda' guy at Udupi - and they must be the vanishing breed too. It's sad to see them go and one hopes they adapted to modern ways and coped with the competition and moved on to something new and profitable. Great post as always.

Anjuli said...

Oh how I have missed your posts & pics!!

This post proved to be wonderful- transporting me right into the old shop on car street. I especially loved the paragraph:

Abandoned to time, abandoned to memory and where coffee beans once rolled rhythmically when the cooling tray rotated....

I can almost hear the sound of the beans...is that coffee I smell? :)

Happy New Year and welcome back!!

kenju said...

Good story!! I wish I had a coffee roaster so mine would be that fresh.

Beth said...

Happy New Year and thanks for a warming post on what's a very cold night here in Canada! I'm always glad to see something new from you.

Anil P said...

Radha: I cannot recollect coming across goli soda in the immediate vicinity of the Shree Krishna Mutt, but I did see goli soda at a shop by the bus stand off the junction at Kaup (also spelled Kapu).

Eventually it is about demand. If there's demand for it from customers they'll survive. So, in some ways it's about us really.

Anjuli: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be back with travel narratives.

Yes, very likely. The fragrance of roasted coffee beans.

Happy new year to you too. Thank you.

Kenju: Thank you. Would be interesting to see if open pan roasting works fine enough to deliver well roasted coffee beans at home.

It might be possible to roast them so at home, though reaching higher temperatures, above 200 degree centigrade, might not be as easy with open pan roasting.

Beth: Wish you a happy new year too. Thank you. It's a pleasure.

I hope the cold lifts soon enough where you stay and sunshine shines through.

Mridula said...

Onion Papad now that sounds mouth watering! I thought Upadhyay was a very common UP surname!

Riot Kitty said...

Hello, and thanks for stopping by my blog! This is a great post - I love the pictures as well as what you wrote.

Mumbai Paused said...

Retail Therapy!

Talon said...

It's amazing how quickly things change and become obsolete, but touching that pockets here and there remain much as they've always been.

Fishbowl said...

Every bit of lovely :)

Vibhav said...

Nice One....Machine reminds me of old flour mill...

Renee said...

Anil it is because of you I get to travel India.

Love Renee xoxo

Anil P said...

Mridula: In North India, true, the surname is common, but not so much in the South though, as compared to other more common surnames.

Riot Kitty: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

Mumbai Paused: Didn't quite get it!

Talon: Yes, they sure do. More because demand drops.

Fishbowl: Thank you :-)

Vibhav: Old flour mill would have that feel for sure. All fine.

Renee: You're more than welcome. Hope they've been interesting journeys.

pink dogwood said...

Anil - you take me to corners of India that I would probably never see on my brief visits to India - thank you for that :)

Darlene said...

I really enjoy reading your posts and looking at your photos. It is educational for me; just like opening a National Geographic magazine.

Anil P said...

Pink Dogwood: Thank you. And India has just too many corners.

Darlene: Thank you for your kind sentiment. It matters much to me to be told so.

Amber Star said...

I'm so glad you are back. I've been watching the picture on my blog to see it change. Happily I noticed today. I'm not sure I was online at all yesterday. Hope you had a nice visit and want to join the others in wishing you a happy new year.

The red hopper on the coffee grinder is much like the one I use at Costco to grind our coffee. They have Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica. I loved it when we were there ages ago. I don't remember exactly if there has been a roaster where I live. I seem to know what roasting coffee smells like, and the machine looked familiar, but I don't really remember. Maybe there haven't been any since I was a child.

I would love to have someone to make my clothes for me. That would be such a luxury I couldn't ask for more. I probably would, but it would be something else.

One thing I like about your blog is the vibrant colors that help to evoke the smells and actually the sounds of your country transmitted over the internet to my home in Texas. Isn't it an amazing world we live in. Welcome home.

kamla Bhatt said...

Richly evocative post that brings back memories of a different India, where mom & pop shops sold all the essential commodities that were required.
Interestingly, such pockets exist in Bangalore as I discovered to my delight including a guy, who makes freshly ground coffee (except his machine might be an updated version of the bright red one that you saw)...and those tailor shops. I also discovered a shop that grinds wheat and rice in bulk...like they did a few years ago...before readymade atta was available in bulk.

Wonder how long these shops will continue to exist before a big department store takes over their space?

Thanks for writing this.

Kamla

Nancy said...

Thank you for taking us along on this interesting sojourn. It is so sad for the tailors that work on something, only not to have it picked up.

I loved the colors in the little shops. We all know freshly roasted coffee beans are the best!

Thanks for dropping by my blog.

Anjuli said...

you are tagged.

Cookie said...

The coffee maker is only 20 years old?! Looks like it got a lot of use.
So sad about the abandonment :(

Anil P said...

Amber Star: It is good to be back, thank you.

The fragrance of coffee lifting from the roaster each day must've refreshed the mornings.

There're Ladies Tailors to be found in India. Their numbers will have declined with ready-made retail stores mushrooming in the cities and Tier I towns.

It sure is an amazing world we live in, and it's encouraging to learn the posts here convey the vibrancy of the Indian street halfway across the world.

Kamla Bhatt: Thank you. Yes, the charm of Mom & Pop stores is unbeatable for the relationships that formed. They were more than just stores.

You'll find them in Bombay as well. I think they'll survive. Density of India's population and the convenience factor favoured by city dwellers will ensure that Mom & Pop stores will continue to thrive even as some will inevitably close down.

It's important that they survive, for reasons including but not limited to economics.

Nancy: Thank you. Most clothes will be picked up, some will not be.

Anjuli: Thank you for the Honest Scrap mention. I'll take it up once I clear my backlog of posts.

Cookie: It definitely looks to have been put through a lot of work.

Coffee Messiah said...

Beautiful post and too bad he does not roast in the shop.

Seems all over the world, small, local shops are closing.

Nicely done and Welcome Back!

Cheers! CM

Anil P said...

Coffee Messiah: Thank you.

He did not have space in the shop for the new coffee roaster. I cannot recollect accurately but I believe he said something to the effect that he held on to the old one because he was loath to give it up.

Good to be back.

Janaki said...

Interesting snapshots of the places you visit... Do you travel for work.. or it's a random-pin-on-the-map.. kinda travel plan?

Anil P said...

Janaki: Thank you. Not on work. On a travel-plan.

Rajesh Balaji said...

Nice pics and great article. Iam amazed to see this kind of a coffee machine which is still serving coffee to the best quality. Would love to try one of these if ever given a chance but for the moment im satisifed with the fresh and honest coffee machine which i have in my office which is serving my purpose of having a coffee anytime and in the quickest manner which uses fresh milk and is tamper proof and programmable as per users preferences.