World knows Indian Chai. It has made its place as ‘Chai Latte’ in many countries. Little do they know that India ranks 7th in Coffee production, 5th in coffee export and about 50% of the population are coffee drinkers. It is predominant in south India and it is customary to offer it to any visitor at home. Coffee brewing is part of every house routine in South India. Being a South Indian myself, the first thing I smell as I wake up is enchanting aroma of freshly brewed coffee. A day never starts for us without a strong cup of filter coffee.
The history of coffee in the country dates back to 16th century. The story of its origin is rather interesting. Baba Budan (Hazarat Shah Janab Allah Magatabi), a sufi saint on his pilgrimage to Mecca discovers wonders of coffee in Yemen. He saw that, it was the only place to grow the coffee and they restricted the export of raw coffee beans forcing the world to buy roasted beans from Yemenis. Hoping to grow them in his own land, he smuggled 7 raw (green) beans in his beard out of Mocha port, Yemen and sowed them in his garden near his cave in Chandragiri of western Ghats (later named after him as ‘Baba Budangiri’). Why 7 you may ask? He chose 7 as it is the sacred number in Islam. Not sure if the magic number clicked, today this place grows coffee amounting to 20% of country’s production.
Coffee cultivation in India is only South India’s affair. Indian Mysore Coffee, which gets its name from its place of origin, is of high quality and have lower level of acidity. It is predominantly grown in Malnad, Nilgiris and Shevaroys regions of Southern states.
India not only produces the usual ‘dry processed’ and ‘wet processed’ coffees, but also a unique ‘Monsooned Coffee’. Coffee beans are left out in large open roof silos to be exposed to the moisture-laden winds for about 3 years before roasting. This monsooning process gives the beans their distinct light brown or yellowish color, strengthens the sweetness and weakens the acidity.
Indians use locally grown beans, often the blend of medium roasted Arabica and Robusta, the premium Peaberry and Plantation A beans blended with 20-30% of chicory. They brew coffee using a metal gear, which they simply call it as ‘Coffee Filter’ similar to Vietnamese drip filter. It used to be made of brass and now you see the ones made of stainless steel. It is made of 2 cylindrical cups. Lower cup is used for collecting the coffee while upper cup is involved in the action. Upper Cup is perforated and it has an additional removable pierced pressing disc. Upper cup is loaded with the coarsely ground coffee powder and pressed with the pierced disk to level the coffee powder into a uniform layer. Boiling water is poured into the upper cup and closed with lid. Within minutes, the lower cup is filled with strong brew (locals call it as Decoction), normally stronger than Expresso.
The freshly brewed decoction is mixed with pre-boiled fresh milk. Sugar is added to this mixture and heated to bring it to boil. Once ready, the coffee is mixed 3-4 times by pouring it from one cup to another at a distance of a yard to blend the mixture well before serving. Indian Filter coffee is served piping hot topped with precisely ¼ of an inch froth. It is traditionally served in a tumbler and dubarah, a cup usually used to cool the coffee.
Quick Fact: Jaggery/Honey was used to sweetened the coffee as those were the only available sweeteners and sugar granules replaced them only in 19th century
What makes Indian Filter Coffee unique?
- The landscape, weather and processing has given Indian coffee, its unique flavor. It is subtle, less acidic yet rich in flavor.
- Fresh Milk is added to the coffee that rightly blends with coffee unlike widely used creamer/condensed milk. This enhances taste and gives the smooth texture
- Adding 20-30% of chicory is a common practice in India, which gives the coffee its unique color and flavor, though this practice only started in 19th century to extend the coffee supply. Once a wartime beverage additive has been integral in South Indian Coffee since then.