March 9, 2008

There's No Coffee Like Filter Coffee, It's Like No Coffee I've Known......

Any recipe collection of Palakkad Iyer cuisine (which is one of the aims of this blog) would be incomplete without any reference to filter kaapi (filter coffee). This has been on my mind for some time now but I seem to have got carried away with other things and I just realized that my blog is in the danger of becoming a baking-cum-blog event blog! Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I has something different in mind when I started out.

When I was little the only coffee I knew was filter coffee. As I grew older I became aware that there was instant version that came in “Nescafe” bottles. This was not and still isn’t considered “coffee” by traditionalists. Growing older I discovered the expresso, mocha, cappuchino, etc for which drank in coffee bars and paid a lot of money for. Then, about 6 years back, we were in Portugal for a few months. There we discovered some more ways of drinking coffee or bica as they call it. The café or “kapi kashayam” as we used to call it (very strong black coffee), the pingado (café + a few drops of milk and my husband actually likes this stuff), meio de leite (half milk + half coffee and my preference), galao (with a 1:3 ratio of coffee to milk) and the garoto (milk with a bit of coffee in it, drunk mostly by kids). The Portuguese believe good coffee comes strong and black. My husband remembers one of his colleagues there sadly proclaiming, when my husband ordered the pingado, that “ adding milk to the coffee was neither good for the coffee nor for the milk”!
Getting back to the matter on hand, everyone knows (in my family, at least) that I am a tea drinker. That is to say that I have been to drink coffee on occasion but prefer “chai” over “kaapi”. These aberrations happen in every family now and then! But there’s hope as my daughter definitely takes after her father in this matter and is a coffee aficionado. But there are those days when this urge to drink coffee comes over me and nothing but the good old stuff will do.
Filter coffee is made by adding a strong coffee decoction to boiled milk and sugar. It is a strong yet milky coffee. There would variations from home to home depending on how much of decoction, milk and sugar is added according to personal preferences. My mother drinks her coffee strong with very little milk while my father prefers a weaker and milkier version. And filter coffee is always served in a steel “tumbler” (glass) and “davara” (a small bowl like vessel in which the glass sits), and never in a coffee mug. If the coffee is too hot to drink, then some of the coffee is poured from the glass into the davara to allow it to cool. I have seen, in the past, people who drink their coffee out of the davara rather than from the glass. One doesn’t see this anymore, probably it is not considered good manners, somewhat like drinking tea out of the saucer!!
In the old days, guests were always offered coffee and it came only in one flavour –filtered coffee. Of course, there was always the “mami” who made not so good coffee but they were rare. Occasionally, in some homes, Horlicks or Ovaltine also used to be offered and this was an honour. This could have been because these were imported in those days, quite expensive and not affordable. Kids always got milk.
The aroma released when hot water is poured over coffee grounds brings back memories from my childhood when we spent vacations at my maternal grandparents place. We used to wake up to the all pervading heavenly aroma of coffee. Coffee had magical names like Robusta and Peaberry. I remember a small hand cranked coffee bean grinder (which was attached to the edge of a kitchen table) my grandmother used to grind the roasted beans in. At some point my grandmother started buying her coffee powder which was blended just the way she wanted. I recall her telling my grandfather to buy the coffee from Kaapi Usha (this being a lady called Usha who sold coffee blended according to her customers’ preferences)!
At home, both my husband’s and my side of the family prefer coffee that is blended with a small percentage of chicory. The chicory enhances the taste of the coffee. But there is a section of coffee drinkers who believe that adding chicory to pure coffee is tantamount to adulterating it. I have a friend who keeps telling me that I’m murdering the flavour of pure coffee with chicory!

To make filter coffee:

You need a coffee filter, of course. The picture shows what a south Indian coffee filter typically looks like. A lower chamber that catches the filtered coffee, the upper chamber where the coffee powder/ grounds are spooned into and boiling water is poured, the plunger which is put into the upper portion after the coffee but before the water is poured in, and the lid.

The filter has an upper chamber with a perforated bottom. The coffee powder is put in this, covered with plunger and enough boiling water to fill the upper chamber is poured in and then closed with the lid. The coffee decoction drips and collects in the lower chamber. This takes a little time (about an hour). This is the first decoction and very thick and strong. Some more boiling water is usually poured into the upper chamber a second time and collected separately and used while making the coffee.
Usually the coffee filter is set up, with coffee grounds and boiling water, last thing at night, so the decoction is ready for coffee in the morning. The extra decoction can be refrigerated for the day.
There a couple of precautions to take while making filter coffee, else the quality and taste of the coffee suffer.
- Never heat the decoction or the coffee once the the decoction has been added to the milk. If you must, then place the decoction or prepared coffee in a hot water bath and warm.
- It helps to add the decoction to the milk and not vice versa. This also helps to judge how much decoction is required.

This is how I make coffee:
For the decoction:

3 -4 heaped tbsps coffee powder (this also depends on the brand of coffee used)
boiling water
Make sure the filter is clean and dry. Spoon in the coffee grounds. Tap slightly to allow the grounds to settle but do not pack it down. Cover with plunger. Pour the boiling water till the upper chamber is full. Close with lid and allow the coffee to percolate.

To make the coffee (for 1 cup):

2/3 cup boiled, hot milk
about 2 -3 tbsp first expressed strong decoction
a little less than ¼ cup second expressed decoction to make up the cup of coffee
sugar to taste (I use 1 tsp)

Pour the milk into a pan. Add the sugar and both decoctions. Stir and pour into another small pan so the coffee froths. Now pour into the glass and place the glass into the davara. Your coffee is ready. You can drink it out of your regular coffee mug, we do. The davara and tumbler sets come out for special occasions or when elderly folks come visiting.
If the coffee is too hot to drink, then about half the coffee is poured into the davara and allowed to cool till the required temperature.
We like our coffee strong and with a little more milk and drink it steaming hot. You can experiment with the amounts of milk, decoction and sugar till you find a proportion that suits your palate.

My first experience of true filter coffee making was after I got married and I still haven’t lived down the experience. I made good tea but coffee had been my mother’s department till then. Soon after we were married, my father happened to visit us at my in-lwas’ place. It was late afternoon and my mother-in-law was having her nap. My husband and father decide they wanted coffee and I offered to make it. Big mistake! I went into the kitchen, boiled the milk, added the sugar and what appeared to be coffee decoction. I poured it out and took it to my husband and father. Both took their first sips, swallowed and then had the weirdest expressions on their faces. I could make out the coffee tasted awful. My father didn’t want to say anything in front of his new son-in-law and my husband didn’t want to appear unsupportive of his new wife in her father’s presence!!
Apparently I had used the watery second expressed decoction instead of the first expressed stronger one to make the coffee. I wasn’t even aware that there could be two decoctions!!! I am happy to say that I have vastly improved since then and make a reasonably good filter coffee now.
For some more interesting write-ups on filter coffee do check out these posts at the Saffron Trail and the Yum Blog.


TBC said...

Your post brought back memories of home and amma's kaapi.:-)

vegeyum said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I love my coffee. Really L O V E my coffee. Recently I had the best coffee ever in Tiruvannamalai at the Trishul Hotel. It was magnificent. Every afternoon after returning from temple, we would drink it in our rooms while we rested. It was just the way that you describe - a pot of thick coffee, almost a syrup, and a pot of hot steaming frothy milk.

Unfortunately, after we left Tiruvannamalai, I had to change to drinking chai because everywhere else used instant powder for their coffee.

Dhivya said...

Wow!i love cofee...especially filter cofee....looks great

A Cook @ Heart said...

I am a tea person, but I do love the occasional cup of coffee. and more so if it is Filter kapi!! Nothing like its invigorating , fres flavor!! Aaahhh!!!!

Uma said...

Wow, thanks for reminding the filter coffee back home. Lovely post. The pictures look simply superb.

Rachel said...

There's nothing like starting a morning with a cup of filter coffee..but at my folk's place and now my family..all of us prefer the aromabetter than anything else

arundati said...

hey aparna.....i love the kaapi in the traditional davara.... MIL gave me a set of those and i am pathetic at making filter coffee, so would froth up chai and serve it in the davaras anyway!! looks fabulous...and though i am a chai addict...i do love a good cup of filter kaapi....oooh you liked the table runner?? looks great!! hugs!!

Nags said...

wow! that's quite a write-up on our simple and sweet filer coffee!!

Rosie said...

WOW coffee and it looks so good....

Rosie x

Aparna said...

I can see that all of us feel the same way about "filter kaapi".

Drinking tea in a davara and glass is also fine. When some of the older folks ask for tea, this is how we serve it.
Yes, the runner looks beautiful. Thanks.


I too make filter coffee! Check out vcuisine blogspot for her way of making filter coffee and some tips from her too!

LG said...

A day cannot get a kickstart untill filter kaapi goes down the gut. Coffee pic looks great dear.

Nandita said...

Oh that was a super read Aparna, and drinking it in tumbler and davara completes the experience - for me, drinking kaapi out of a mug, doesnt feel as good! and thanks for the link up :)

vid said...

Hi Aparna;

Great work..
I am quiet new to the kitchen and I am not so experimental regarding food stuffs.
But as I am going through your posts for some days I really got an inspiration and I tried some of ur recipes.
It was not bad at all. :) Thank God.
Filter coffee I tried and it became a routine now.
I am a pure vegetarian and I am also from Kerala and loves to have all south Indian dishes.
Keep it up Aparna, Congratulations and thank u so much for the recipes.

Aparna said...

Thanks for the comment. SO now you have become a confirmed filter coffee fan. :)

I'm happy to kow my recipes are working for you too.

clifford said...

Ive introduced Goa to the typical taste of chennai in the form of Idlys, wadas and Dosas. I recently bought a coffee filter and was checking on the net for info on how to use it. I'm truly greatfull for your information. will tr it out. pls do visit our outlets @panjim, 18th june rd, opp bombay bazzar and in porvorim, PDA colony near the syndicate bank.

Superchef said...

loved reading this..infact, i also have a post in my drafts on filter a filter this time when i went to india :)

Anonymous said...

this looks great! does anyone know of an online store where i can buy a filter coffee maker?

marina said...

Thanks for the information. I'm sure everyone will find it really helpful. Some really great tips.
Well, I thought you guys might wanna know about that Fresh and honest offers patented Swiss fresh milk coffee vending machines in India at only the installation cost for corporates. Owners now have the option to pay either per cup of filter coffee or buy coffee beans per KG. Their 24/7 free vending machine upkeep along with a 4 - 24 Hr service turn around time makes them one of the most preferred coffee vending machines provider in the country.
Thanks again.
Marina "Coffee Adict" Lobo

Arun said...

Filter method is a great way of making coffee. Though some say coarsly ground powder is better suited for making filter coffee, I personally vouch for the fine grind. I usually grind raost coffee bean at home to prepare the brew. The only issue I find in India is availilty of consistently good coffee beans.I hope I can find an outlet where consistent quality Arabica roast coffee seeds are available.

Aparna said...

Filter coffee is what we grew up with so, as far as we're concerned, that's the best coffee. :)

There must be places where coffee beans are available in Karnataka, since Coorg produces some of the best coffee here.
As for filter coffee grounds, I believe Cafe Coffee Day sells various coffee blends including Arabica, though I'm not sure if it is the best quality available.

Arun said...


Thanks for taking time off and responding! Yes of course,Karnataka is the largest producer of coffee in India and you do get good peaberry and plantation blends. I was just pointing to lack of consistency in quality. Mysore, in my opinion is where you get the best quality coffee.

You have a wonderful website...keep going!!


Niv Mani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Niv mani said...

Thanks!, you just got me dashing off to my freezer to retrieve my stash of Filter coffee grounds & hunt for the various parts of my coffee filter... If only the internet had 'smella vision'.
I've taken the liberty of reposting this on my foodie page on FB.
Keep blogging!
Niv Mani

Aparna said...

If we could "smell the coffee" on the net, then the net would not just be an addiction but a "fix" for many people. :D
Thanks for sharing the link on your FB page.

The Silence Within said...

There is indeed no coffee like filter coffee!!

Ashwini said...

Aparna - I really liked this post. Lot of info with scientific dimension. Also, loved the Portuguese terminology, had heard about it but not known the meaning. Awesome post!

fresh vending said...

A must have guide to organic and natural food lifestyles Including: Healthy Kids School Snacks And A Look at the Childhood Obesity

fresh vending recipes