Monday, June 06, 2011

Serving tea and coffee with style and sincerity

Anthony Manickam has been serving tea and coffee to customers in offices and shops in Kochi for the past 30 years. In the process, he has been able to build a house and give a good education to his daughters

By Shevlin Sebastian

Antony Manickam, 59, arrives at the Sub-Registrar's office at Edapally on a red M80 moped. In a smooth movement, he takes out a tray and places paper cups on it. Thereafter, through a tap in the steel container tied at the back, he fills the cups with milk and adds tea powder or coffee. Then he walks inside and places cups on different tables.

The employees smile at him, some with relief, because they were yearning for their first refreshment of the morning. Then Manickam steps outside and goes to some shops on the opposite side. This includes a tailoring shop, a photocopying centre and a workshop.

Thereafter, he goes to the Edapally branch of the HDFC bank near Changampuzha Park. Again, he goes through the same motions and serves coffee to the 15 employees inside. “They like my coffee because I use Bru Instant,” he says. Incidentally, he charges Rs 5 for both tea and coffee.

Every morning, Manickam provides the beverages in several offices, stationary, and ration shops, workshops, and markets. “I serve 250 cups a day,” he says. “When I was younger, I would make a thousand cups, but now I have slowed down.”

Manickam has been doing this job for the past 33 years and has regular customers. One of them is Georfin Pettah, the owner of several supermarkets under the name of 'Jose Pettah and sons'.

“Manickam has been serving tea to us for the past three decades,” says Georfin. “There are many reasons for his success. First of all, he is dressed very well. Secondly, he serves the tea on a tray and it is very hygienic. The tea and coffee are always fresh.”

There is a reason behind the good quality. “I don't make the tea or coffee beforehand because it will have a stale taste after one hour,” he says. Since there are some places where he reaches two hours after he sets out from his home, he ensures that he makes it fresh each time he has to serve a customer.

On weekends, Manickam gets orders to provide refreshments for functions, baptisms, weddings and funerals. "He is very reliable," says Georfin. "You just have to give the order and forget about it."

Manickam, who is originally from Coimbatore, came to this business through misfortune. He had been working in the Sealord hotel as a waiter. But a year-long strike in the hotel in 1978 forced him to leave. He started a wayside hotel but it failed. He was in a penurious condition.

“I was finding it difficult to pay the rent and to buy the milk for my two-year-old daughter,” he says. In desperation, he began selling tea at night on the streets. Thanks to Georfin's cousin, Jose, he got his first assignment to give tea to the students of the Teacher's Training Course at the Edapally government high school.

Thanks to his sincerity, he got a lot of customers. In 1982, he bought five cents of land in Edapally and built a house. “I got a loan of Rs 1 lakh from the Edapally branch of the State Bank of Travancore, and repaid it by giving tea,” he says. He bought the cement, the sand, and the other building materials in a similar manner.

“The only time I had to actually pay money was to the labourers,” he says. “Can you believe that I was also able to marry off my two daughters, Mary and Maggie, apart from giving them a good education just by selling tea and coffee?”

Asked how long he would continue, Manickham says, "As long as my health permits. I just love this job and enjoy the look of expectation that comes on people's faces when they see me."

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)


  1. Dearest pappa, nice report.... Anish from saudi

  2. Every post is well written, unique and a good read. Keep it up!