The rich aromatic and flavorful South Indian Filter Coffee (a.k.a Filter Kaapi) is the genuine love of every South Indian, especially from Southern states of India; Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andra Pradesh. It is the morning ritual without which the day does not even start for most. It is unlike any coffee you would have tasted until now. Read on to know why you don’t want to miss this if you are one of the traditional coffee aficionados.
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In the 1600s a revered Sufi Saint of India, Baba Budan on his return journey to India from a pilgrimage to Mecca was treated to refreshing coffee in Mocha, Yemen. It energized and rejuvenated him so much that he wanted to grow coffee in India too. But visitors were forbidden to take coffee beans with them. Legend has it that he smuggled 7 coffee beans in his garments or cap or beard. Upon arrival, he planted them near where he lived. It was in Chikamagalur, at the foothills Western Ghats mountain range in Karnataka located in South India. There is even a famed hill station in that location called Baba Budan Giri as a tribute to the saint. Soon after India came under the British, Coffee production got commercialized on a bigger scale. Karnataka still grows 65% of the total yield of Indian coffee and exports premium coffee to major European countries. The rest of the South and East Indian states contribute to the remaining 35% of the coffee grown in India.
Different Types and Blends
Arabica and Robusta are the 2 types of coffee beans grown in South India. The medium-roasted beans are finely powdered and mixed with chicory. The root of the chicory plant is blended with coffee. Chicory enhances the coffee flavour with its woody and nutty aroma. A blend of 15% chicory and 85% coffee is the best blend in most coffee houses in India. More than 30%-40% chicory is a no-no for South Indians, as it increases bitterness and also can deter digestion and trigger mouth allergies for some.
The Journey of the tiny bean
Coffee in German is Kaffee, in French and Portuguese it’s Café and in South India it is Kaapi.
The heavenly smell of white coffee flowers welcomes one as they drive along the Western Ghats of India amidst the sprawling coffee estates. More so during the mild Indian autumn/winter to spring which is from November to March. In the next 10 months, the white flowers turn into dark red cherries. At this stage, they are handpicked and the rest of the process kicks in. The workers use mills to remove the pulp of the cherries once dried and the inner beans are again dried till they have just 10 – 12 % moisture. Wet, Dry and/or Semi-dry methods are used to separate the fruit pulp from the beans. As the last step, they separate the silver skin and parchment covering the green beans using a process called hulling. Later they grade and sort the beans and get it ready to roast or directly shipped.
The green beans can retain the flavor and freshness up to 12 months if stored well. Roasting coffee beans is a much-celebrated affair, and it involves 4 stages. The humble green beans get their first crack/pop signaling the first stage, progressing to medium roast and full roast where it transforms to a dark brown color releases oils, attains a second crack and a heavy flavorful aroma of freshly roasted coffee fill the air and our nostrils transmitting us to delicious coffee haven. It is still not the end. They even get double roasted where the sugars caramelize and sweeten up and intensify flavor to the hilt. One can choose among electric roasters, stovetop roasters or even you can try roasting using popcorn makers.
Brewing the creamy rich filter Kaapi
Next comes the exciting part of making that perfect cuppa. Grinding coffee beans is an art, they say. Grind it coarse and the coffee lacks any flavor. If it is ground too fine, it turns highly acidic and tastes rancid. So it should be towards fine, but not too fine. A conical burr grinder is all you need to get perfectly ground powder.
South Indians use stainless steel, almost cylindrical filter comprising 2 main compartments. The top part is the container with holes at the bottom where you can add the coffee powder. After you add the powder, place the plunger on top of it. The plunger also serves to compact the powder.
The bottom container sits below the top compartment to hold the decoction dripping from the top compartment. Oh, you need to add scalding water to the top container and close the lid to make that happen. Usually, traditional artisans of coffee let it sit the entire night, but one can even use it after 15-20 minutes. But the more you let it sit, the better the consistency of the decoction mix becomes. With the modern electric coffee makers, you don’t have to wait so long.
Now to the interesting part. South Indians and Indians, in general, prefer their coffee with a generous helping of milk. Milk is boiled to its boiling point and some even add sugar to hot milk. They pour the milk from one pot to another from a height. This way it is vigorously mixed till it foams thick. Then the strong decoction is added as required to milk. It is not to be heated again, lest the coffee flavor diminishes. The coffee is served in a stainless or copper tumbler and a similar metal cup (also called dabra). Trust me, it tastes divine!
Did you know the south Indian filter coffee has different names in different states of India too?
In Karnataka, it is Mysore filter coffee, whereas in Tamil Nadu it is called Madras filter coffee or Kumbakonam degree coffee.
Similar blends in the world
The Milch Kaffee in Germany tastes very similar to the South Indian filter coffee. Milk is one of the healthier options as compared to artificial creamers. Adding milk reduces the acidity of coffee to some extent. Some avoid milk if they are on a weight-loss diet, or have a dairy allergy. As a replacement, you can also add soy or almond milk to coffee.
While Brazil tops the exports in coffee, India stands at a respectable 7th place marking its spot in the top 10 coffee exporters in the world. The Indian Coffee board is a government-controlled organization charting the wellness of this commercial crop. It conducts coffee exhibitions and trade fairs to create awareness about the rich Indian coffee to consumers in domestic and international sectors. The board also facilitates export of the home-grown coffee. Over 600,000 people depend on coffee for their livelihood.
India’s very own Café Coffee Day is a popular hangout for young and old. It serves global coffee menu ranging from Café Americano, Frappe, Latte, Mocha, Espresso to its very own filter coffee.
One thing you’ll notice in India is almost every restaurant has coffee and tea on their menu. Even people love to finish their breakfast, with a cuppa. And evenings without the obligatory dose of caffeine is never done.
Whether you like it just black, or are an Expresso fanatic or a Latte lover or a Cappuccino addict, or fancy the South Indian Filter Kaapi, the refreshing beverage is a major factor that adds zest to our otherwise overwhelming day. Agree or not?