I was introduced to coffee at a very young age like many other South Indian kids. I don’t remember how old I exactly was but I remember dunking biscuits into my coffee and then crying when they fell into the cup. It’s a routine. The day starts with coffee, or else it doesn’t. Our culture has two different drinks. There are coffee drinkers and there are tea drinkers. But coffee receives more love and followers than tea does.
We make do with the instant kind these days since brewed coffee is time consuming. But you don’t get the aroma or the taste of the brewed kind in the instant coffee.
In other countries, coffee means the plain black brew. But in India its synonymous with the version creamed with milk. A few decades ago, before instant coffee was preferred it was the brewed version, better known as filter coffee, that was found in every coffee drinking house hold. Even today people make it, but not as much.
Filter coffee is made with the traditional coffee filter which is cylindrical and removable. The coffee grounds are added to the top layer. Then a silver disc is placed on top it to compress the grounds. The bottom layer is to collect the decoction after hot water is poured in the top. The coffee drips slowly into the bottom layer. This decoction is stronger than any espresso and has to be added to milk.
Coffee is everywhere in South India. In the corner tea shops, at every office breaks, in high end cafes, at early morning weddings and even in the funerals. In between the wailing for the dearly departed, there arrives a tray of coffee to soothe their throats so that they can cry again for the loss of their loved ones. At every gathering coffee is offered in steel tumblers so much so that it can be the logo for the whole of South India.
But coffee is not a native drink to us. It was brought here by a Sufi Saint who while coming back from Mecca stole a few coffee beans to India. He planted them on a hill slope in Karnataka. It must have caught on probably because we now have coffee plantations in most part of the South. Our culture prohibits alcohol which is probably why our people fell in love with coffee as much.
While traveling in national highways towards southern Tamil Nadu, you can find a Kumbakonam degree coffee outlet at every 2 kilometers at least. Kumbakonam is the most popular city for filter coffee in Tamil Nadu. Even if our taste buds have accustomed to instant coffee, the freshly grounded coffee bean smell from the small filter coffee powder shop is heavenly. It makes you pause at least for a good 10 seconds before you move on.