Indian filter coffee

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Indian filter coffee is a coffee drink made by mixing frothed and boiled milk with the decoction obtained by brewing finely ground coffee powder in a traditional Indian filter. The drink is also known as kaapi (the South Indian phonetic rendering[citation needed] of "coffee"), Kumbakonam degree coffee, Mylapore filter coffee, or Madras kaapi. Outside India, the term "filter coffee" may refer to drip brew.


The most commonly used coffee beans are arabica and robusta, grown in the hills of Karnataka (Kodagu, Chikkamagalur and Hassan), Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris District, Yercaud and Kodaikanal), Kerala (Malabar region) and Andhra Pradesh (Araku Valley). Traditionally, the coffee bean varieties plantation an or peaberry are used to make filter coffee. The beans are usually medium-roasted and finely ground, and sometimes 20 to 30 percent roasted chicory is blended with the coffee powder.


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 underneath 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 (i.e., tamped) with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup's pierced bottom. The coarser the coffee grinds, the more one has to tamp the coffee to retain the same extraction. With the press disc left in place, the upper cup is nested into the top of the tumbler and boiling water is poured inside. The lid is placed on top, and the device is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory holds on to the hot water a little longer, letting the water dissolve and extract more of the coffee grinds.

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 even 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 - "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 down to a sipping temperature; and most importantly, aerating the mix without introducing extra water (such as with a steam wand used for frothing cappucinos). An anecdote related to the distance between the pouring and receiving cup leads to another name for the drink, "Meter Coffee".

Filter coffee served hot and frothy in a traditional tumbler and dabara


Coffee is something of a cultural icon in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh especially the Coastal Andhra regions, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is customary to offer a cup of coffee to any visitor. Coffee was originally introduced by Baba Budan to South India in the 17th century and became very popular under British rule. Until the middle of the 20th century traditional households would not use granulated sugar but used jaggery or honey in 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 India, discovered for himself the wonders of coffee. In his zeal to share what he’d found with his fellows at home, he smuggled seven coffee beans out of the Yemeni port of Mocha, wrapped around his belly. On his return home, he settled himself on the slopes of the Chandragiri Hills in Kadur district, Mysore State (present day Karnataka). This hill range was later named after him as the Baba Budan Hills and one can see his tomb even today by taking a short trip from Chikmagalur.

Rev. Edward Terry, chaplain to Sir Thomas Roe who was 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)[1]

"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 mid-1940s. It became the drink of millions after the emergence of more popular Indian Coffee Houses in mid-1950s.

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


South Indian filter coffee served hot in metal tumblers at Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) in Bangalore
  • 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.[2]
  • Another explanation for degree coffee is that chicory beans were used to make the coffee. The South Indian pronunciation of chickory became chigory then digory and finally degree.
  • Yet another explanation is that, when coffee is decocted for the first time, it is called 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, in earlier days, coffee was decocted for a second or third time from the same initial load; this became the second degree coffee and naturally, is not as strong. Affluent households drank first degree or the famous "Degree Coffee" only.[citation needed]
  • Yet another explanation is 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. Hence you look for best "Degree Coffee".
  • The name may also derive from the filter used for making the decoction.
  • Interestingly, there is a Kannada name for coffee "Boondh Bisneeru". "Bisneeru" sounds a great deal like "bisi neeru," or "hot water," thus leading to speculation that the terms are connected. Although not used currently, this was used by ladies two generations ago. The Sri Lankan Tamil name for coffee is "Kottai Vadineer".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aparna Datta. "From Mocha to Mysore: A Coffee Journey"
  2. ^ Kumbakonam Degree Coffee, The Hindu, 27-10-2012. Retrieved 03-08-2013.

External links[edit]