I wonder why hardly anyone talks of the chain of Philips Coffee & Tea these days.
There’s a lot of chatter on coffee and coffee shops and brands and blends and countries of origin among folks, in the social media and mass media here. There is a lot of interest in coffee and the razzmatazz and paraphernalia surrounding it. Loads of new things happening. New brands of coffee being launched here and available in your local imported goods store. Coffee shops are opening up by the dozen too. There are the coffee nerds and the coffee snobs and then those who just love their coffee in a simple, uncomplicated way.
Yet, I don’t think I have heard anyone mention Philips in ages. Starbucks yes. Madras Cafe yes. French presses, Brazil, Colombo, Guatemala and many other Miss World cum Football World Cup favourites…but no Philips in the discussions around coffee.
I have never bought anything from Philips myself yet to be honest. There is a reason for that.
My tastes in coffee at home are simple and instant. I don’t have the patience to get into beans, filters and French presses and coffee machines and all that stuff. Even though friends have gifted us all of that.
The thing is, that a big part of my coffee consumption at home is in the morning when I am always in a hurry. All I want is coffee that is strong, easy to make and wakes you up. For a while I have been buying Davidoff Instant Rich Aroma and that works for me. For after hours I keep Nescafe decaf. Yes, I know ‘decaf is not coffee’ etc etc but unless you are willing to be my 4 am friend I would stick to decaf as I search for ‘nature’s sweet restorer’.
Stepping into a shop selling coffee beans didn’t make sense to me & I never entered Philips. What I do know however is that you are likely to be shrouded in some bewitching coffee aromas when you walk in front of one of these very humble stores. There used to be A Philips Coffee & Tea near my PG digs close to the Bandra Station. Just walking in front of the store was enough to wake you up and keep you perky all day. So robust were the aromas of the coffee.
The effect was the same when one passed by Philips stores at places such as Matunga. Even if one was on the road and not the footpath. The shops look like the traditional loose tea shops. A bunch of tins in which the teas are kept. Or in this case, coffees too. And a stencil board with prices and names of the types of coffee written on them. No arty posters or other point of sale materials. No air conditioning.
These shops exist from another era.
I suddenly came across a Phillips after ages on Saturday. Went into one for the first time. Quite appropriately this happened at Fort. One of my favourite places of Mumbai. A place which is still frozen in the past while the city impatiently hurtles towards a gawky gangly confused new look.
I was there to meet David Pritchard & Liz who were recce’ng Mumbai for Rick Stein’s show.
I then visited my old haunts. Vidya Dairy where the owner greeted me with a smile and insisted that I have a plate of piping hot jalebis on the house…my protests to the contrary swept aside. Just as were my attempts to have just one. I stepped into Swagat for a cup of filter coffee. It was lunch time and in deference to the lunch crowds I offered to have the coffee that I ordered on the kerb. They would have none of that and I sat at my old regular spot and sipped on filter coffee…as robust as ever…served in a paper cup instead of a glass now. I was bit hungry and munched on a rasam vada …served in a peppery spicy rasam. I then went and caught up with the folks at Apoorva and then Ideal Corner where Parvez stepped in just as I entered. The warm smiles of welcome on every face I encountered all over from Fort…from that of the owners to those of the waiters made me feel so at home.
None of these restaurants are for those who find comfort in cliches such as Mahesh, Britannia, Bade Miya, Chowpatty & Girgaon chowpatty. These are for those who respect good food and are willing to seek it out.
I was at Fort to meet Xanthe Clay who writes for The Daily Telegraph and was in town once again. She was with a group of folks from the UK and was a bit apologetic about the delay but I didn’t mind to be honest as I just cannot seem to spend enough hours in Fort, a place which continues to enchant me. And catching up with Xanthe is always lovely after all.
Xanthe and a group of journalists were with the folks who run Dishoom an Indian restaurant in London. They invited me to join them for lunch at Mahesh. The buttered crabs were nice, the conversation was lovely and the sol kadi an eye opener for our visitors from overseas. Rest of the food…prawn koliwada, butter garlic prawns, fish gassi were military medium. But then for better stuff you have to get out of the cliches as I said and go to a Apoorva rather than a Mahesh or an Ideal Corner rather than a Britannia.
The group into smaller numbers and moved on after that. Xanthe and her camera man, Ming, and I went to Swagath for coffee. They were both wowed by the idli and sada dosa there and this after a big meal at Mahesh! Ming’s first taste of these South Indian tiffin dishes and Swagat does a great job of it. Xanthe remarked that this to her was the the sort of taste memory that would linger on the palate. Ming kept marvelling on the the texture and taste of the fluffy idlis.
The coffee was next and they both looked at me and said ‘its robust like you said’. A few more sips and they asked me, “where can we buy this?”.
I looked at the waiters and manager at Swagat and asked them if there was a shop where we could buy filter coffee.
The answer was epic.
“Horniman Circle ke pass ek naya coffee ke dukan khula hain, waha milega.” (you will get it at new coffee shop near Horniman Circle.’
So the guys at Swagat were telling us to go to Starbucks to buy coffee!
Our tiffin of irony done, we moved on and suddenly spotted a Philips outlet near the Kashmir Emporium ahead of Bombay Stores at Fort. It had large banners of the magazine Week and I was a bit confused. perhaps Philips had closed down there. The aroma of coffee was unmissable though. Strong, bold. We walked in.
There were magazines on one side and coffee and tea tins on the other.
It was a Philips outlet.
Abraham, the manager, explained that the Philips Coffee & Tea chain is run by the Malayala Manoroma publishing house from the South. Hence the magazines. That the first Philips shop was opened in Matunga, Mumbai’s South Indian version of a China Town, in 1934. It was ‘registered’ in 1940 which is the date mentioned on the carry bags there.
We asked Abraham to recommend a coffee and he suggested a Highlander. Both beans and powder were available and our visitors chose beans which are easier to carry.
I don’t know how the coffees are and will tell you once I hear from Xanthe but I am quite sure that this is a wonderful way of carrying the aromas of the enchanted world of Fort back to England.
Have any of you tried Philips? How is it?
Update 24.1.2013 Saee wasn’t able to comment so she wrote. The comment function is a bit a of a problem here. I thought I must share her experience with you:
Couldn't post on the blog, so doing it here, as promised.
My grandparents lived opposite the Cooperage grounds. I come from a family of hardcore coffee drinkers, and a large South Indian-style percolator is perennially perched on our counter tops, quietly dripping freshly ground coffee. There was a Philips Coffee and Tea shop in Colaba--my grandmother would buy her weekly stock of coffee grinds from there--Peaberry. No chicory. As a kid, I would make that trip with her, a cloth bag made to my size slung over my shoulder. Along the way, past the Naval mess and MSLTA club, past the police quarters and the Archbishop's beautiful house and cathedral, we would pick dried leaves in varying patterns, spot seasonal flowers in trees high above us, look at the intricate patterns on the woven carpets at the Cottage Industries store, and before we knew it, we would be in the shop. The shopkeeper knew what we wanted and he'd measure out the coffee beans noisily in a plastic measuring mug and then take them to the back of the store to grind them. Then, he'd pack the powder neatly in brown paper bags with the Philips logo in red and tape the bags shut. It's been a while since I've seen such neat packing (been a while since I've seen good brown paper!). I miss that shop and the homeliness and calm (perhaps it was the smell of coffee, perhaps it was the experience of it all). It is close to a decade now since my grandparents moved to the suburbs, and I miss that part of town. Your post really stirred some warm memories.
And, to answer your question, the coffee was always beautiful--aromatic and strong. Don't know about notes and all that, though! ;)
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