Indian filter coffee

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Kaapi served in a metal tumbler, inside the dabarah saucer in which it can be cooled

South Indian filter coffee is a coffee drink made by mixing frothed and boiled milk with the infusion obtained by percolation brewing of finely ground coffee powder in a traditional Indian filter. The drink is known as Kaapi, which is the South Indian phonetic realisation of "coffee". The drink is also referred to as Madras filter coffee, Madras kaapi, Kumbakonam degree coffee, Mylapore filter coffee, or Mysore filter coffee. Outside India the term "filter coffee" may refer to drip brew coffee, which is a distinct form of preparing coffee.


Chennai is famous for its filter coffee, and many shops like this grind fresh coffee powder.

Popular Indian lore says that on a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 16th century Baba Budan, a revered Sufi saint from Karnataka state, discovered the wonders of coffee. Eager to grow coffee at home, he smuggled seven coffee beans from the Yemeni port of Mocha in his garments. Returning home, he planted the beans on the slopes of the Chandragiri Hills in Chickmagaluru district, Mysore State (present-day Karnataka). This hill range was later named after him as the Baba Budan Hills. His tomb is near Chikmagalur.[1]

Rev. Edward Terry, chaplain to Sir Thomas Roe who was an ambassador at the court of Emperor Jehangir, provides a detailed account of its usage (1616):

"many of the people there (in India), who are strict in their religion, drink no wine at all; but they use a liquor, more wholesome than pleasant, they call coffee, made by a black seed boiled in water, which turns it almost into the same colour, but doth very little alter the taste of the water. Notwithstanding it is very good to help digestion, to quicken the spirits, and to cleanse the blood."

The British East India Company brought in fresh influences. David Burton, a food historian based in New Zealand writes in his book The Raj at Table (1993)[2]

"India's first coffee house opened in Calcutta after the battle of Plassey in 1780. Soon after, John Jackson and Cottrell Barrett opened the original Madras Coffee House, which was followed in 1792 by the Exchange Coffee Tavern at the Muslim, waited at the mouth of the Madras Fort. The enterprising proprietor of the latter announced he was going to run his coffee house on the same lines as Lloyd's in London, by maintaining a register of the arrival and departure of ships, and offering Indian and European newspapers for his customers to read. Other houses also offered free use of billiard tables, recovering their costs with the high price of one rupee for a single dish of coffee."

Indian filter coffee was popularised by the India Coffee Houses run by the Coffee Board of India since the mid-1940s. It became the drink of millions after the emergence of more popular Indian Coffee Houses in the mid-1950s.

Indian filter coffee migrated overseas in the early 20th century to Malaysia and Singapore, where kopi tarik (pulled coffee) is a close cousin of the Madras filter coffee-by-the-yard / metre, and was introduced at roadside kopi tiams run originally by Indian Muslims.


Coffee has been grown in India since the 1600s, when it was first brought to India from Yemen by Muslim saint Baba Budan.[3] The most commonly used coffee beans are arabica and robusta. These are grown in different states of South India, such as in the hills of Karnataka (Kodagu, Chikkamagalur and Hassan), Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris District, Yercaud and Kodaikanal), Kerala (Malabar region) and Andhra Pradesh (Araku Valley). The beans are usually medium-roasted and finely ground and blended with roasted chicory. The final coffee powder composition is typically equal quantities of Plantation A and Peaberry with between 10% and 30% chicory added, producing a distinct aroma, thickness and colour in the resulting brewed coffee.


Metal South Indian coffee filter disassembled.

South Indian filter coffee is brewed with a metal device that resembles two cylindrical cups, one of which has a pierced bottom that nests into the top of the 'tumbler' cup, leaving ample room beneath to receive the brewed coffee. The upper cup has two removable parts: a pierced pressing disc with a central stem handle and a covering lid. (A similar device is used to brew Vietnamese coffee.)

The upper cup is loaded with freshly ground coffee. The grounds are then compressed (tamped) with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup's pierced bottom. The coarser the coffee grinds, the more one must tamp the coffee to obtain the same extraction. With the press disc remaining in place, the upper cup is nested into the top of the tumbler; boiling water is poured in. The lid is placed on top, and the appliance is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory retains the hot water longer, letting the water dissolve and extract more of the ground coffee.

Traditional Madras-style dabarah, or davarah, and tumbler placed with the open end facing down as customary.

The resulting brew is generally much stronger than Western drip/filter coffee, and often stronger than espresso.

Traditionally, the coffee is consumed by adding 1–2 tablespoons of the brew to a cup of boiling milk with the preferred amount of sugar. The coffee is drunk from the tumbler (although a word of English origin, it seems to be the most commonly used name for this vessel), but is often cooled first with a dabarah (also pronounced in some regions as 'davarah'), a wide metal saucer with lipped walls.

Coffee is typically served after pouring back and forth between the dabara and the tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand. This serves several purposes: mixing the ingredients (including sugar) thoroughly; cooling the hot coffee to a sipping temperature; and most importantly, aerating the mix without introducing extra water (such as with a steam wand used for frothing cappuccinos). An anecdote related to the distance between the pouring and receiving cup leads to another name for the drink, "Meter Coffee".


Coffee is something of a cultural icon in all the South Indian states of India like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu , Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala. It is customary to offer a cup of coffee or tea to any visitor. Coffee became very popular under British rule. Until the middle of the 20th century, traditional households would not use granulated sugar but jaggery or honey in coffee.


South Indian filter coffee served hot in metal tumblers at Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) in Bangalore.
  • A traditional Kannada name for coffee is "Boondh Bisneeru". The term was popular about two generations ago, and has since lost favour in popular usage.
  • A term often heard for high-quality coffee is Degree Coffee. Milk certified as pure with a lactometer was called degree milk owing to a mistaken association with the thermometer. It is claimed that coffee prepared with degree milk became known as degree coffee.[4] Yet another possible derivation for the term is from the chicory used to make the coffee. The South Indian pronunciation of chickory became chigory, then digory, and finally degree. Another explanation is that when coffee is infused for the first time, it is referred to as the first degree or simply as the "Degree Coffee". This has the strongest flavour and the necessary strength to mix with milk without watering down the taste. In less affluent households coffee would be infused for a second or third time from the same initial load and would be called the second or third degree coffee respectively given its lower strength[citation needed]. Yet another explanation could be that coffee was mixed by pouring it from one cup to another cup, it has to be poured at a certain angle or "degree" for best taste

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Brew Me a Story". Indian Express. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  2. ^ Aparna Datta. "From Mocha to Mysore: A Coffee Journey"
  3. ^ Wild, Anthony (10 April 1995). The East India Company Book of Coffee. Harper Collins. ISBN 0004127390.
  4. ^ Kumbakonam Degree Coffee, The Hindu, 27-10-2012. Retrieved 03-08-2013.

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