Tuesday, March 14, 2017

South Indian Filter Coffee for a #KaapiBreak

Filter Kaapi - Picture by Mrigaank Sharma for A Pinch of This, A Handful of That
In India, one's daily 'Cuppa' is an intensely personal choice, because there are as many preferences as there are people in India. And nowhere is this more underscored than in Mumbai, the city of millions. As universal as Chai is in India, Coffee is popular in the South. And while Mumbai is fueled by copious amounts of Chai peddled at every corner by Chaiwallahs, one finds the best South Indian style Filter Coffee in the bastions of South Indian Cuisine - Manglorean and Udipi restaurants in Mumbai. 

I have sate on the fence between tea and Coffee all my life! While Tea was the beverage at home, I switched loyalty to instant coffee in boarding school. Much later I discovered that while it seemed cool, I had no idea of what real coffee was! 

My parent's office was right next door to a coffee shop - that sold fresh ground coffee. And required me to pass by the heady aroma of freshly roasted coffee every single day after school! But it was much later in my teens that I discovered this magic that was South Indian Filter coffee. I spent school holidays, making myself useful at the office. What this meant was that I would wake up, get dressed and travel with one of the parents to the office. Initially, like every new trainee, I would be given some mindless job to do, but that slowly changed to more serious work. Lunch was often "Idli Sambhar dubo ke" from Lalit restaurant, the Udipi establishment that did brisk business, just opposite. We asked for our idlis to come dunked in sambhar because we figured out we got more sambhar that way. We ate it with coconut chutney and washed it down with Filter Coffee - hot enough to sting after the spice from the meal. 

The Filter Coffee would be delivered in a special pair of utensils. THe waiter would ritually pour the coffee back and forth through the two utensils. There would be a tumbler accompanied by a dabarah or 'davarah', a wide metal saucer with lipped walls. Traditionally to pour the coffee back and forth with arc-like motions of the hand to cool (its gained major swag as metre coffee now!) But that stuff was for experts! Novices like me settled for merely spinning the coffee around in the davarah to cool it. Which got one cool coffee, but without the thick layer of froth that formed on top from pouring it back and forth.

South Indian Coffee 
South Indian Coffee also known as Madras Filter Coffee or Kaapi, is a sweet milky coffee popular in the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. I learnt to make my filter coffee from my friend Mita's husband Venkat. It is also from them I learnt that South Indian food does not begin and end with Idli and Dosa. But that is for another post. The first time I made this coffee at home I had to wait an hour for 1 cup of coffee and have since learnt that this whole exercise is better done at night so you can wake up to your morning cuppa. Since 6-8 tablespoons of coffee powder can take the decoction upto 6-8 hours to collect in the lower receptacle, I also usually do some extra and keep it in the fridge. Also to make South Indian Filter Coffee, you will need a South Indian Coffee Filter (a tinned brass filter is best but a stainless steel one will also do in a pinch). This traditional percolator is a metal device made of four parts, two cylindrical cups, the top one with a pierced bottom that nests into the top of the lower "tumbler" cup. The upper cup has two removable parts that go into it: a pierced pressing disc with a central stem handle and a covering lid. Rinse the coffee-making device and other utensils thoroughly in hot water before use and dry.

Time: Overnight + 10 Minutes; Makes: 2 cups

Ingredients (for 2 cups)
4-6 tbsp/ 60-90 g dark roasted Coffee Beans (70%-80%) ground with Chicory (20%-30%) Store bought coffee powder can be substituted (not instant coffee though!)
300 ml boiling hot Water for percolation + more if required for dilution
100 ml Milk or to taste
2 tsp /10 g Sugar or to taste

Ensure your water is on a rolling boil before you begin making your coffee. To use your coffee filter, uncover, remove the umbrella and fill to capacity- never less than three-fourths (2-3 heaped tablespoons of coffee powder per cup ideally). Press down with a spoon to pack it in. Replace the umbrella and gently pour in boiling hot water. Cover with the lid. The water will slowly percolate down depending on the quantity of powder used. If you OD on the coffee powder, there would be less water percolating through, resulting in a concentrated but lesser quantity of the 'decoction'. In this case once the decoction collects below, add more boiling water to the top and collect the concentrate 2-3 times (although first decoction is best). Keep in fridge and use as required. 

To make coffee - Always add freshly boiled water to coffee - not vice versa, for optimum taste. The ratio of coffee powder to water is usually 1:15. Pour out coffee from lower part of filter into cups. Serve with milk and sugar to taste, separately. Use milk in a ratio of 1:3 to coffee and NEVER, EVER use over-boiled milk- it ruins the flavour.

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