A buttered toast and a cup of piping hot filter coffee is all that I require to kick start my day. Having grown up in a typical Tambrahm home, I am habituated to this cuppa coffee every morning. The frothy mixture of hot milk, coffee decoction, and sugar, may seem pretty simple to make. But trust me, when you actually get down to making it, you realize there’s much more to it.
We South Indians do fuss about our filter coffee, and could go to great lengths to ensure that the first cup of coffee in the morning is near perfection. Traditionally served in what is known as a “Davara and Tumbler”, filter coffee could be considered as one of the best stimulants to get you going. I must have started having filter coffee during my teens, when I migrated from drinking Bournvita to “Kaapi” (the phonetic rendering down south). There were many Kaapi lovers in my family, who were extremely particular about the way it had to be.
An interesting fact is that the first coffees were brought into Karnataka and Kerala by Baba Budan, a Sufi Saint from Yemen. He brought with him exactly seven beans and planted them around, as no one would buy them from him. The fertile region produced an aromatic yield and, there was no looking back after that, as the simple yield grew into a tradition.
My octogenarian grand mom would prepare her own cup every morning. Boiling the milk at low flame, stirring it slowly, she would wait till the thick froth would rise up. She would add that first thick decoction to the milk and just the right amount of sugar. Settling down with the piping hot coffee, she would pour it into the accompanying davara, shake it up a bit, lift the tumbler a bit high and pour it straight into her mouth, down her throat. It’s a typical Bramanical practice, and you would find many from the previous generation having their coffee in this fashion, without the rim of the tumbler touching the lip. It’s the notion of purity where the saliva is considered to ritually pollute.
I never bothered to get into the nuances of brewing filter coffee the right way. For years after I moved out of home, I found it easier to pick up the bottle of instant coffee and be done with it. It was far quicker, instead of the traditional filter, which would brew the coffee drip by drip, generally overnight.
A couple of months back, I discovered a lovely little coffee filter gifted by mom when I got married, lying ignored in an old trunk. Out it came and the drip brewing began. There is no looking back now. A well-made filter coffee is yet again a part of my early mornings.
In recent times, filter coffee seems to have become a sort of new cool. With the likes of coffee lounges, Starbucks, and other coffee chains, having crept into our lives, their menus feature the filter coffee too. I recently took my mom to a Starbucks in Chennai, and her excitement knew no bounds when she spotted filter coffee on the menu. As she slowly, moved her fingers to the cost mentioned, her expression changed to a more shocked reaction. “Why would anyone pay five times more for a filter coffee, than what it is available for at Madras Coffee House?” It was after considerable coaxing that mom finally agreed to settle down and enjoy the coffee at Starbucks, only to be critical about the way it had been brewed. Surely, it wasn’t authentic filter coffee as per her. I wasn’t sure if it was the cost or the brewing, but the dissatisfaction strewn on her face was evident.
I realized one thing that day. There’s good coffee and there’s filter coffee. Where one stimulates your mood and energy levels, the other elevates you to an altogether greater high.