Filter coffee - Maddy's Ramblings

Aug 15, 2006

Filter coffee

RK Narayan said in ‘My Day’s - Whenever I could afford it, I gave them a cup of coffee at a restaurant on Hundred Feet Road. The cup of coffee blunted the listeners' critical faculties and made them declare my work a masterpiece.

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..

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


Kishor Cariappa said...

The taste of coffee lies in the right amount of chicory added while powdering. The ratio is 1:10.
Filter coffee was my favourite too during my school days, but, sadly now I have take to tea.

maddy said...

thanks guro, welcome to my world - yes, u should know best, name suggests coorg & i remember our general - 10% seemed low though...
hey i checked out your blog,pretty interesting, will visit again...

Pradeep said...

Superb writeup! Remember our school accountant Mr R Sreenivasa Murthy (who used to stay in C-14), two houses to the left mine...? His son Padmanabhan and I were great friends and whenever I went to their house, his mom used to give me superb filter coffee... That's my first memories of filter coffee... They are from Bangalore you know...

maddy said...

Pradeep - I remember Mr Murthy, cant remember if i had coffee at his place though - BTW you could pass on the barometer story to ur dad, he 'll enjoy it!!

Ajith said...

Nice post, would you know if you can buy filter coffee powder online in the US

Ajith said...

Nice post, would you know where you can buy filter coffee powder online in the US

Maddy said...

well ajith..depends on where u live,find a desi shop where u are and they should normally have it. if not try online indian grocers...i dont know specifically who stocks it online..

Jennifer said...

I am smelling and tasting the coffee though I am miles away from it as I read your entry! Your descriptions brings back memories from my two year stay in Chennai and my very recent failed attempted at using our coffee filter to make the decoction. If I could only get it right! Is there a particular brand in India that is highly recommended. We'll bring some back on our next trip! Thanks for sharing!

Maddy said...

thanks jennifer - for dropping by. i checked out and read some of your blogs too.. truly enjoy it when we come across somebody who bothers about and then understands our culture..

I have just about given up on the filter coffeee...the mexican coffee filter (gas or electric version) might just work, but you have to pick up narasu's coffee from indian shops and probably pack it a bit loosely..when we tried it, it was packed tight and the decoction was super strong....

kailas sundaram said...

chicory should never be added to coffee powder. Coffee is already a poison and if you add chicory you will be consuming more poison.Coffee roasted/ground in houses are more tastier than bought from the market.

Kannur gal said...

To all Indian filter coffee lovers - try Indian Monsoon available at Baltimore Coffee And Tea Company with chicory as per taste. Another alternative is 2:1 Louisiana coffee with chicory and Melita preminium blend.
Cheers !

Maddy said...

hi kannurgal..
thanks again....
I have the Louisiana chicory coffee, by itself it tasted 'orrible.. I have to add melita and try
btw you can read this later article if interested

Kannur gal said...

Hi Maddy,
Totally agree. You need to mix Louisiana with Melita in a 2:1 ratio. Grind the mix finely - as in an Expresso or Turkish blend. Indian Monsoon is imported from Coorg as beans. Here is the product description on the gunny bag which made me go a little tipsy !

Indian Monsoon Malabar
This incredible coffee from the Malabar region of Southern India offers a brew with a sweetly fermented fruit flavor that has an intriguing musty tone, but one that is not at all sharply bitter. Very low in acidity, the muskiness of this coffee is obtained by exposing the beans to the humid monsoon winds for 12 - 16 months prior.

Hi don't forget the Chicory - that is from me.
Cheers !

Maddy said...

thanks KG..
I will give it a try as i still hv the Louisiana blend
I checked the IMM blend, it does not tell u where you can get chicory added, did i miss something?
we get coorg, anand and other brands in the indian store - not very good anyway

Kannur gal said...

Hi Maddy,
Coffee Partner Chicory is available online. It comes as coarse granules. Have to grind it fine in a coffee or dry/chutney grinder at home. Mix with either Expresso or Turkish grind Indian Monsoon Coffee. My MIL, as finicky as RK about her morning coffee, steel devorah/tumbler and all, never sipped but poured, tried various combinations and settled on this.
Going through all your posts one by one. Really great writing. Why not send some Pushcart.

Maddy said...

thanks KG
i will try it, only problem as against percolated coffee is that i will have to stir myself to heat milk to make coffee in the morning with the decoction.. but then again, it will taste infinitely better i suppose.
thanks for the compliment, i think i needed one today, for it was a terrible day at office and i was feeling miserable, actually