I am one among those millions world over for whom a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee early in the morning is a heavenly delight. My coffee should be a South Indian filter coffee with fresh decoction taken from well roasted coffee beans with the right blend of chicory powder mixed with fresh hot foaming milk with a balanced mix of sugar. The first coffee in the morning is divine with the pleasant aroma giving a heady feeling.Without this golden brown brew stimulating the taste buds and the rest of the system,the daily routine will never be triggered.
To have that wonderful coffee,you need a thick fresh aromatic coffee decoction .There is a simple device called Coffee filter which gives you that miracle brown liquid called decoction. The decoction mixed with fresh hot milk and sugar makes an excellent south Indian coffee that is normally served in davara set that consists of one saucer like cup with a rim and a tumbler placed inside the davara. The beautiful antique brass coffee filter shown in the picture has served thousands of tumblers of coffee since more than 100 years and must have witnessed the grateful smiles of satisfied coffee lovers. I am really proud of having this most enchanting antique piece in my collection.
The Coffee filter set
The traditional South Indian coffee filter has two chambers that sits one over the other, a lid to cover the top chamber and a plunger. The top chamber has the perforations to allow the filtration to happen.The bottom chamber serves as a collection point of the decoction. Coffee powder is put into the perforated chamber, and the plunger is kept on top of the powder and pressed gently. The plunger is basically a convex disk with perforations and a pin that is welded vertically at the centre of the disk. The purpose of the pin is to lower the disk to sit on top of the coffee powder and to take it out when not required. Hot water is poured on the upper chamber and covered with the lid. The plunger ensures that the falling water do not make a hole in the coffee powder when poured from a height. The plunger takes the pressure of the water and distributes uniformly around the plunger. The hot water seeps into the coffee powder through the holes in the plunger. Over the time, the coffee gets brewed and the decoction percolates to the lower chamber drip by drip carrying the essence and the aroma of the coffee powder. The decoction collected from the first drips mixed with fresh thick milk with adequate sugar makes the perfect coffee and I know people who wake up early in the mornings only to sip this wonderful coffee. Coffee is the motivation for most of the South Indians to get up early in the morning.
The precious gift
This beautiful brass antique coffee filter set was gifted to me by Shrimathi Janaswami Saraswathi garu (“garu” is the respectful way of addressing elders in Andhra Pradesh). Saraswathi garu and her husband Janaswami Venkatappayya garu are closely related to us through our niece Vani. Vani is the daughter of my brother-in-law Machraju Purushothama Rao and his wife Machiraju Parvathi. We used to have frequent mutual visits with Janaswami family while we were in Mumbai. Saraswathi garu was heading a reputed school in Mumbai and Venkatappayya garu was a general manager of Canara bank. Subsequently we settled in Hyderabad and by a pleasant coincidence they have also shifted to Hyderabad and our frequent visits continued.She used to encourage my antique collection and one fine day she gifted this antique brass coffee filter in the year 2006. I was told that the filter was passed on to Saraswathi garu by her grandmother and it must be by any means more than100 years old.Those were the days the stainless steel has not yet invaded into domestic utilities and hence this filter is made of pure brass. Moreover, the coffee tastes at its best in brass filter and served in brass davara set. I am always grateful to this noble lady for her gracious gift.
My experience with coffee
My first experience with coffee was in the year 1950 prepared by my mother in our village Someswaram. My grandfather Shri Yenugu Krishna Murthy Garu is a connoisseur of coffee and he was one of those privileged people in the village to have coffee in those days .My grandfather used to buy coffee beans in bulk from the nearest town Rajahmundry and store them. My mother is to pick up one week’s consumption, roast them to a dark brown colour and pound them to a fine granular powder.Subsequently he used to buy fresh readymade powder. There were no metallic coffee filters available those days around my village. My mother used to keep coffee powder in a bronze tumbler and pour over it hot boiling water and keep a lid for brewing. Then she used to filter the brew through a fine cloth which would allow the fine decoction to filter down and arresting the residue. We used to call the process Gudda coffee (“gudda” means cloth in Telugu). My next taste of coffee is in Kakinada, Dwaraka Lunch Home in the year 1956. I did not know how it is made but there is nothing special to mention about it.
My first real filter coffee experience was at Madras (present day Chennai)in the year 1961.My sister and brother-in-law used to stay in West Mambalam, Madras, the core area for typical Tamil culture. My sister adapted quickly to Tamil culture, particularly to the early morning filter coffee and I had my first taste of filter coffee in my sister’s home. When I used to go for a stroll in the streets of Mambalam in the morning, the air was filled with aroma of freshly ground coffee and occasionally mixed with fragrance of jasmine flowers from the plaited hair of passing by women, with M.S Subbalakhmi rendering Venkateswara Suprabhatam in her melodious voice, the gents with “Hindu” newspaper sipping hot fresh filtered coffee.I cannot forget this nostalgic experience of my early days at Madras. Subsequently, I stayed in Chennai for 12 years from 1967 to 1973 and from 1983 to 1989. But by then the cultural romance has gone out of daily life.
How to prepare good south Indian filter coffee.
The taste and Aroma of the coffee comes from quality seeds like Pea berry, Plantation, Arabica and Robusta. You can also use the combination of these two verities of seeds to get the best out of the both seeds. The seeds have to be roasted to dark brown shade till they emit the deep aroma of the roasted coffee.The roasted seeds are to be grounded to granular powder neither too fine nor too rough.It is ideal to grind coffee powder just before the filtration by using the traditional hand grinding machine. Addition of Chicory is optional.Some people like to add chicory because it gives extra texture and colour to the coffee.Taste of the coffee also depends on the quality of water used and the milk.Ground water with lot of minerals,corporation water with too much of chlorination will spoil the taste of the coffee.Use good potable water for making decoction.The milk should be fresh and thick to get the real zing out of the coffee.In this occasion I should mention about the “Degree Coffee of KumbaKonam” which is very popular for its authentic south Indian filter coffee.In southern states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Coffee is affectionately called as “kaapi”. In Tamil Nadu hotels, restaurants and dairies buy milk from the vendors by testing the quality of the milk with a lactometer and the quality is rated in degrees.Hence any milk that measure up to the degree standard is called degree milk. In Kumbakonam, coffee is prepared with degree standard milk and hence it is called as “Kumbakonam degree coffee”.
How to prepare a good South Indian Filter coffee
1- Boil pure water(mineral water recommended) in a steel vessel.
2- fill the upper chamber of the coffee filter with fresh coffee powder depending on the size of the coffee filter and the number of coffee tumblers required.Minimum you should keep fourheaped tea spoon full of coffee powderif the filter is small and six if the filter is large. If you keep less,the water will just run away from the upper chamber without percolation. Even for single person there should be a minimum amount required.If the number of tumblers required is more additional coffee powder is to be added.
3- The coffee powder in the upper chamber should not be too loose or too tight. Just press the coffee powder with your fingers gently. If it is too loose hot water will just run through the powder without any percolation. If the powder is too tight the water settles down on top of the powder and will not percolate down and even if it does it takes lot of time.
4- Place the plunger on top of the coffee powder.
5- Place the upper chamber on the top of the lower chamber tightly.
6-Pour the boiling water on top of the plunger and keep the lid.
7- Keep aside the filter for 20 to 30 minutes for brewing. The decoction will be collected in the bottom chamber.
8- Boil the fresh degree milk in a stainless steel vessel.
9- Take the tumbler from the davara set, add 1/2 inch level of filtered decoction, and add hot milk to the required strength of the coffee.If you want your coffee to be strong add less milk and for lighter coffee add more milk. Add sugar as per the taste. The proportion of milk to the decoction has to be experimented initially till you hit the required taste.
10- Hold the coffee tumbler in your right hand and the davara saucer in your left hand and start whisking the coffee from tumbler to saucer and saucer to tumbler in quick motions repeatedly for three or four times till a nice brown froth is collected by the aerated coffee. Take care not to spill the coffee in the process. By practice you develop the art of whisking the coffee.
11- Keep the coffee tumbler in the davara saucer and serve.
The culture of Coffee Serving
The tradition of serving coffee in davara set started with the practice of echai(no contact with saliva) by orthodox Iyer and Iyengar and other Brahmin families of Tamil Nadu. With echai practice the tumbler should not touch the lips and hence they used to drink coffee by pouring directly into the mouth from a respectable distance. To regulate the heat of the coffee to avoid the burning of the mouth, the saucer is used to cool the coffee till right temperature is arrived.Then the coffee is transferred to the tumbler and then to the mouth. The davara saucer is also used to whisk the coffee into the tumbler and vice versa to aerate and achieve the right temperature.
It is a tradition in Tamil Nadu to offer coffee to the guests. The coffee should be a filtered coffee served very hot. It is considered as bad manners if you serve cold or staple coffee and there are chances that the guests will get offended.
In some traditional families the coffee filter should be brass (not stainless steel) and served in brass davaa set. The well maintained brass items shine like gold and brass is considered as Laksmipradam (equivalent to goddess Lakshmi). In some well to do Tamil families, they also use silver coffee filter and silver davara set. As a mark of respect, most Tamil families offer the coffee made out of the first collection of the decoction to the elders of the families.
The Modern coffee house sand coffee bars.
Time has its own magical effect on people.Things have changed.Now with NRI culture huge coffee mugs have taken the place of good old davara sets. The convenience of instant coffee has taken upper hand over the time consuming filtered coffee.The beautiful coffee filters have become a collector’s items.
Now, the youngsters prefer the modern coffee houses that sprang in all cities and towns.These places are trendy lounges where people can sit leisurely and sip mugs and mugs of coffee with friends or with laptops in front .Drinking coffee in joints like Cafe Coffee Day,Barista,Costa coffee, cafe Mocha and Starbucks is all about cooling with friends and catching up social get-together.Coffee today signifies bonding and great reason to spend time with people you like.Inthese up market cafes you get variety of coffee selections with really magical names.I have tried some of these coffee menu and I am sure you may also would like to try if not already done.
Expresso: Expresso is a strong black coffee made by forcing steam through dark- roast aromatic coffee beans at high pressure. A perfectly brewed expresso will have a thick, golden brown foam on the surface. Adding a dollop of steamed milk completes the drink.
Cappuccino: A Cappuccino is a combination of equal parts espresso, steamed milk and milk froth. This luxurious drink, if made properly, can double up as a desert with its complex flavours and richness.It is common to sprinkle unsweetened cocoa powder or grated dark chocolate.Iced Cappuccino makes a great summer drink.
Americano: An Americano is a single shot of expresso added to a cup of hot water. Many coffee houses have perfected this brew which is a creamy, rich coffee that one can savour.Get the maximum flavour from your Americanoby keeping the amount of milkto a minimum.
Caffe Latte: This is a single shot of expresso mixed with three parts of steamed milk.Pair this with cookies,sponge cakes and even Italian bread for a unique and satisfying breakfast.
Caffe Mocha (Mochachino):This is Cappuccino or Caffe Latte with either chocolate syrup or powdered chocolate.This versatile drink can be made in several ways.Add cocoa powder or grated chocolate for flavour and garnish with whipped cream to make it more delish.
Caramel Macchiato: The most common method of making caramel maccciato is by combining espresso,carameland foamed milk.Steamed milk is usedsometimes and vanilla is often added for extra flavour. You can add sugar as well,but be warned, the drink is already sweet as it is.A caramel sauce topping makes it all the more lip-smacking.
Long Black: As the name suggests,this is a cup of rich-bodied black coffee,and black coffee alone.It is usually made by topping a single shot of espresso with a cup of hot water,with or without sugar.
Flat White: This is ideal for those who enjoy the strength of cappuccino,but not the foam that goes with it.To make a flat white,simply top up an espresso with steamed milk,but make sure that you only add the milk and not the foam.
The story of coffee- How it is discovered
I will not be doing justice to this article if we do not appreciate how this wonderful drink is discovered and passed on to our generation for us to enjoy and admire. I read from Wikipedia that a goat-herder discovered this coffee plant and the story goes like this
“ A 9th-century Ethiopian goat-herder, Kaldi, who, noticing the energizing effects when his flock nibbled on the bright red berries of a certain bush, chewed on the fruit himself. His exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to a Monk in a nearby monastery. But the monk disapproved of their use and threw them into the fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed and the monks came out to investigate. The roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee. The story is first known to appear in writing in 1671, and thus may be fanciful.”