Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Filter Kaapi Trails: A Pilgrimage

By Dhivya Subramanian


Ask any South Indian he’ll swear by this frothy delight. Filter Coffee in most part of Tamil nadu is a social institution, and a force to reckon with. The day here almost does not start without one steaming hot glass of freshly brewed filter coffee. It is the epitome of the famous Tamil hospitality and hence it is only sacrosanct to treat our guest to this a filter kaapi. I discovered the strong decoction brewing in the filter has a story just as tantalizing as its aroma.

What tam brams consider theirs was originally introduced by Baba Buden, a revered muslim holy man from India, in the 16th century. During his pilgrimage to Mecca he chanced upon the wonders of coffee and smuggled a few beans wrapped around his belly to Mysore.

The coffee was popluarised during the British raj and there were many stories around it. Some argued it was European origin, it must necessarily be unclean; others said it might be alcoholic. In any case coffee was expensive and a privilege of the rich, a tumbler full cost as much as half an anna, while butter-milk was served free in many places. Only the most daring tried it but the conversation the new drink brewed got everyone in its clutches and one has never really recovered from it.

It is always a wonder to know how the coffee made it to the filter of the tam bram household. Around 1860 coffee cultivation gained momentum for it held the promise of export but a few bags managed to pave its path into the local market and received extensive support from the railways and the local stall vendors. Coffee slowly transitioned from road side stalls to households where it found aficionados who roasted their own beans - peaberry preferably - and devised their own unique gadgets and utensils for roasting, grinding, brewing and serving that came to be known as the filter. In the process, they elevated filter coffee into an art form and created a coffee culture that practically defines a community.

The filter coffee wave brought with it a teaming economy - the Leo coffee was set up in 1910, followed by Narasu’s coffee in 1919. MTR set up shop at Lalbagh Fort Road, Bangalore, and out-of-home coffee got a new dimension, the magical kaapi, along with idli, vada, dosa and sambhar, found yet another entourage of devotees.

A fresh aroma wafted in the 1990’s, with a whole new trend in coffee retailing. Café Coffee Days, Baritas and Qwikys mushroomed all over the country catering to young adult brewing out exotic coffee variants and dishing out mouth watering snacks to go along.

However, our very own filter kaapi hasn’t lost it sheen. Traditional coffee drinkers still regard instant coffee with an unmasked contempt for there can be nothing to replace this sheer ambrosia. And even as we speak the new tam bram yuppie somewhere between all his globe trotting would happily trade their starbucks for the good old filter coffee, just the way grandma would have brewed it for him back home in madras.

1 comment:

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