Among the lattes, flat eggs and espresso on its menu, Tata Starbucks will now offer South Indian filter coffee – one of the chain’s “regional favourite”, along with masala chai and small bites, as it seeks to expand its reach in India. The fan base of this type of coffee—served with milk and hot, usually, in the stainless steel or brass blend of “tumbler” and “davara”—has grown in the past two decades. However, its inclusion in the list of a brand with a pan-India presence may herald a dominant position that has long eluded filter coffee.
What exactly is filter coffee?
Whether in Mylapore, Chennai or Mumbai’s Matunga, the aroma of freshly roasted beans, with their promise of a hot dose of sweet coffee and milk, has long defined a typical South Indian style of coffee drinking experience.
The ‘filter’ vessel used to make it is a metal utensil with two cylindrical parts: coarsely ground coffee powder is placed in the upper cylinder, which has tiny holes in its base, and pressed down with a metal disc. Hot water is poured over this and the coffee is allowed to brew for about 10 minutes, with the broth slowly dripping in and collecting in the bottom cylinder. The broth is mixed with milk – cow’s milk, delicately, if one wishes to make the famous “class” Kumbakonam coffee – and sugar, and served in a wadavara cup.
Ideally, the coffee itself is made using freshly roasted and ground coffee beans, with purists insisting that dandelion not be added to it. However, many commercially available mixtures contain some dandelion.
A brief history of filter coffee
While tea/tea established dominance in pan-India – in large part due to a marketing push in the 1930s by the British looking for a broader consumer base for the colonial tea industry, coffee consumption was more limited. The habit of drinking coffee took root in the Tamil community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Coffee cultivation may have been established in the Mysore region by the 18th century, but most of it was sent to Europe. As documented by the historian A.
It is to be expected that the cultural concern accompanied the enthusiasm and criticism that linked it to “every disease is possible and unimaginable”. It was considered more addictive than alcohol, and Venkatashalabathy notes that women, in particular, were seen as having succumbed to its “dangers”. Despite this, coffee has become the preeminent drink in the Tamil community, and it is prestigious enough that not serving it to guests indicates a lack of social grace.
Coffee, or kaapi, has become a ‘cultural label’ and symbol of modernity, especially for middle-class Brahmins, distinct from tea that was seen as a ‘urban working class’ drink.
Breaking the Brahmin faith
In his book, Venkatachalapathy records a tongue-in-cheek description from 1926 of “cafe-hotels” (also known as “coffee clubs”) that became increasingly popular: “A public tavern set up by the Brahmins. A messenger from God to break the doctrine of the Brahmins.” Although coffee hotels were frequented by all kinds of people, they were mostly owned and operated by Brahmins and always had separate sections for Brahmins and non-Brahmins. While caste-based separation is mostly over, Brahmins’ influence on kaapi filter culture is still visible today in the design of the utensils used to brew drinks: the cup and davara are designed with slotted edges facing outward so that the drinker can pour the coffee directly into his mouth without letting it touch the pots.
As drinking coffee became popular in other parts of southern India, the establishment of “Udupi” hotels in other parts of the country – especially Bombay and Delhi – introduced filter coffee to the new residents. So far, however, the use of specialized equipment, as well as a certain degree of patience and skill, has meant that only loyal fans would put in the effort to make filter coffee at home – despite the wider availability of filter pots and even bottled broth. .