Filter coffee, Madras coffee or decoction coffee – three different names for the brewed coffee that is popular across Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh (three states of South India).
A cup of hot, fresh South Indian Filter Coffee
By whatever name you call it, this is the most delicious coffee in south India and in the entire world. It tastes like a cross between Italian cappuccino and New Orleans coffee. It is a special treat to drink first thing in the morning, with a meal or after dinner. If you walk around Chennai (Madras) in the morning, you will find coffee vendors on their bicycles with large insulated containers filled with this aromatic coffee selling it in small disposable cups where people gather: construction sites, bus stations, trains, etc. It is also served in restaurants like Sarvana Bhavan in Chennai. Here the coffee maker is an expert at the “two yard” coffee pour. This means that he pours it back and forth twice to make a lot of foam on the coffee. What a sight! Being a coffee lover, I have had this coffee many, many times while I was in India. In addition, decoction coffee is always served to guests when they come to your home.
Pouring hot Indian Coffee
South Indians are very serious coffee drinkers while North Indians tend to drink more tea. Just like in the United States, they buy the different varieties of beans that vary slightly in their flavor. Most popular varieties are Plantation A, Plantation B and Peaberry. The coffees are roasted and kept in air tight containers so they stay fresh. Customers ask the coffee vendor to mix specific varieties and grind it. My in-laws select equal proportions of the three varieties for their special blend. Some people buy green coffee beans to roast and grind at home just before making their coffee so it is as fresh and aromatic as possible.
Coffee was introduced to India by the Arabs. The local people of Kerala found that coffee plants grow well there due to the heavy rain that they get. Coffee plants never grow well in dry areas. Kerala and Karnataka have huge coffee plantations. One of them, the House of Tatas, has thousands of acres of land across Kerala, Coorg in Karnataka and Ooty in Tamil Nadu.
This requires a special decoction coffee maker made of stainless steel. In the old days, brass filters were used. Coffee makers are available in different sizes to make enough coffee for different size families. Each coffee maker has four parts. The top container into which the ground coffee is placed has a perforated bottom. This fits tightly into the bottom container which collects the decoction coffee. The third part is the plunger which is placed over the ground coffee. It is a perforated disk with a vertical stem. The last part is the lid.
A South Indian Coffee maker
South Indians make strong, filtered coffee but they do not drink it too strong. They prefer to mix it with a lot of hot milk (not black). The proportion of their coffee to milk varies from 20 to 80% based on their preference. One step in coffee preparation makes this totally unique to South India: instead of pouring their coffee directly into a cup, it is poured back and forth from a height of about one yard from one vessel to another to make thick foam which makes it look like cappuccino.
One taste and you will be in awe. A few cups and you will be hooked. This coffee has the best aroma when freshly brewed so it should be prepared early in the morning. Here is my recipe that makes 5-6 cups:
Making South Indian Coffee
2 heaping Tbs per person plus 1 Tbs for the pot very finely ground dark roast coffee
With the top and bottom containers attached, put the coffee powder into the top container and gently press it down with the plunger. Fill the top container with boiling water and close the lid. Allow one to two hours for the coffee concentrate to drain into the bottom container.
Fill a cup about ¼ full with the coffee concentrate. Fill with boiling milk and sugar (your preference). Using two cups pour the mixture from one to the other from as large a distance as you can manage without spilling to make thick foam on the top of the coffee. Enjoy!
Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.
All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.