So guys, would you please drink a cup of filter coffee before reading this?
Ananda bhavan, after that good meal of ghee roast and vadas, one has to polish it off with a filter coffee served in the steel glass and ‘attified’ (cooled) with the dovarah. Nothing, not even paan can leave behind a better taste in your South Indian mouth! Remember the Mount Ganesh Coffee works at Malleswaram, can you smell the freshly ground coffee? Oh! The intricacies of making that filter coffee!
You fill fine coffee powder of the right proportion in the top compartment; push the plunger down to compact it. The top portion is then fitted over the bottom and boiling water poured into the top. Wait overnight to get an intense decoction as they call it. Add to sweetened hot milk, pour some froth on top, and voila – South Indian/Madras filter Coffee. This coffee is available typically in ‘Brahmanal’ cafes in TamilNadu or Kerala. They tried to emulate it with Bru, but not there yet.
I recall our training by my Pattar roommate Venkat while slaving in Bombay. Those days my employer paid me a pittance of a salary, with an HRA added. But it was only the term HRA that sounded expansive; the amount was in reality not even a decent ‘Hut rent allowance’. So we were five in a one-room kitchen flat compacted like the coffee powder, communal living at its best. Venkat was our coffee man, when we woke up he was there to get us going with decoction coffee made with great care. He was the one who taught us about tight compacting to get a good decoction.
But the trick was actually in the coffee powder. Dad was also very particular about his coffee, so we used to buy coffee based on his recommendations only from certain places like Krishna coffee works in Sultanpet. He used to remind mom when she went shopping (even though she knew) ‘ Babe, make sure the chicory is 25%’. Mom would repeat at the grinder’s – Plantation and Peaberry beans with 25% chicory and he would ask 25% are you sure, it is not right? She would say yes. This advice was repeated every time, month after month, year after year. After I got married and set up house, the same story continued in the new generation. The coffee guy in Malleswaram would ask 25%? First few times, he even refused, finally acceding to our crazy request. The norm was 20%, I believe.
After we left India, it was impossible to find coffee powder as above. In Saudi they had only pure Arabica, In Turkey they had acrid Turkish ‘kahve’, In America, well, less the said the better - we settled eventually on Maxwell house Columbian – grade 3. My search for the elusive Plantation plus 25% chicory continued…till I saw a version sold in New Orleans (Creole coffee). But it was not to be, the premixed Creole version tasted awful (had 50% chicory I guess!). So we gave up, to savour it only during vacations in India…
Chicory has interesting origins. Purists ask for pure coffee, so when we mentioned chicory in coffee shops out west, they blanched. What? You are asking for that cheap additive? Well, it has been around since the 15th century or even earlier, and is a root. Apparently it has no caffeine, lowers cholesterol & blood sugar. So, Coffee drinkers, that fact will come to your rescue. The French popularised it and the Germans adopted it. In all, Chicory gives coffee additional colour, body and bitter flavour..
But Historical French writers say it is contra-stimulante, and serves to correct the excitation caused by the principles of coffee, and that it suits bilious subjects who suffer from habitual constipation, but is ill-adapted for persons whose vital energy soon flags, and that for lymphatic or bloodless persons its use should be avoided.
Well, I don’t know all that…for me today living on British shores, I can only smell that elusive filter coffee in my mind, and dream of ‘Brahmanal’ coffee shops, steel tumblers and the dovarah…
Hey – Try reading – The Rape of the lock - It is a fun story – Now you understand why lots of things happen in college canteens, the vapours of coffee can get your spirits up. An extract from the writing of Pope.
Coffee is served, the vapors of which go to the Baron’s brain and embolden him to carry out his assault on Belinda’s hair. Clarissa, a lady who fancies the Baron, withdraws scissors from a case and arms him with the weapon. When he closes in behind Belinda, she bends over her coffee, exposing a magnificent lock. But a thousand sprites come to her aid, using their wings to blow hair over the lock. They also tug at one of her diamond earrings to alert her to the danger. Three times they warn her and three times she looks around. But all is for naught. The Baron opens wide his weapon, closes it around the lock, and cuts.
Pictures – Courtesy Wikipedia
RK Narayan took filter coffee to mainstream readers in many of his books. If curd rice was Narayan's favourite dish, coffee was undoubtedly his favourite drink. Writing in his Dateless Diary, Narayan talks about his visit to a New York cafeteria where he ordered coffee and was taken aback when the server asked him, "Black or white?" "Neither", he said haughtily. "I want it neither black nor white, but brown, which ought to be the colour of honest coffee - that's how we make it in South India where devotees of perfection in coffee assemble from all over the world." Narayan often used to joke with friends saying that he was the "globe's best coffee taster".
Narayan was known as a person who did not impose his regimen on his hosts. Even at home he was unfussy. But, according to those who knew him well, he made a great deal of fuss only about coffee, his favourite drink. He relied on his sister-in-law, Sulochana, to prepare this brew for him. This gracious lady, wife of his younger brother Seenu was a great friend of my wife, Ratna. She would tell her, "It is a terrible task for me, making the 'perfect' coffee for Kunjappa - his pet name. The warmth of the drink and the mix of sugar, milk and decoction have to be very, very correct. Even if there is a slight variation in warmth or flavour, he will ask me to make it all over again. One has to be a genius to 'repair' it."
Origins of coffee – check this blog out
Decoction –The act or process of boiling anything in a watery fluid to extract its virtues