South India’s Favourite Drink: The Origins Of Filter Coffee

South India’s Favourite Drink: The Origins Of Filter Coffee
(L) Spice Adventures ; WhiskAffair (R)

There are very (very) few things better than the whiff of fresh filter coffee wafting through one’s home. From the sound of the drip in the filter itself to the feeling of catching the glorious concoction between the two tumblers, filter coffee goes beyond a daily beverage and presents itself as an experience - a homely ritual, if you will. Near an unbeatable taste, filter coffee is South India’s pride and joy, but its origin comes from beyond the region.

Popular belief states that back in the 16th Century when coffee was not a beverage of choice, its beans were brought to India by a Sufi, Baba Budan. On his way back from his pilgrimage from Mecca, he managed to sneak precisely seven beans of coffee into India (some believe they were hidden in his beard, while some believe he wrapped them around his belly). On his return, he settled in the Chandragiri hills in Chikmagalur. Here, he planted these beans among the hills and cultivation of coffee began. Much later, around the 20th Century, coffee became rather famous in the southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.

Image Courtesy: Masala Korb

This surge in popularity came as a result of brewed coffee combined with milk and sweeteners such as jaggery or honey. Especially in Tamil households, filter coffee, or ‘filter kaapi’, as it is still popularly known, became quite the phenomenon. Using the Indian filter with two compartments — one where the ground roasted coffee is placed with hot water, and the second, right under it which collects the decoction. The coffee is traditionally consumed from a tumbler accompanied by a dabarah (often, both the containers together are referred to as the dabarah set). The latter is used to cool down the coffee as it is poured from it to the tumbler repeatedly, allowing the coffee to come in contact with cooler air. Filter coffee is usually blended with some amount of chicory which helps retain the hot water as it drips, allowing for a more rounded and bold flavour of coffee to come through in the decoction.

When Indian Coffee House came about in the mid-20th Century, coffee began reaching places in the north of India. With coffee commercialisation came the need to expand cultivation and so, plantations began sprouting across India while still being mainly the south.

Image Courtesy: Archana's Kitchen

Filter coffee is now so closely intertwined with Indian culture that its absence for even a day in most households is out of the question. Groceries may run out, but coffee? Never! It is an imperative piece of the culinary heritage of South India and continues to remain one of the many charms of the region. The homely, heartwarming, and precious drink is a result of years of historical significance and oftentimes, as is the case here, food becomes a forerunner of its narration.

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