Don’t brew’d over it… have a filter coffee instead

Don’t brew’d over it… have a filter coffee instead

This brewed beverage is South India’s irreplaceable hot drink that is an acquired taste

A look into South India's favourite beverage, how it's made and what makes it so distinct from your usual cup of java Image Credit: Sharon Benjamin/Gulf News

Dubai: History has consistently changed, but the one thing that’s remained constant is coffee. Made with equal portions of coffee powder, sugar and milk (or without milk), this hot beverage is the third most-favoured drink in the world.

Of course there have been several changes in the way it’s been prepared, but there’s nothing a good cup of coffee can’t solve.

History of Coffee

According to International Coffee Organization, total production for coffee year 2020-21 is estimated at 169.60 million bags, representing a 0.4 per cent increase on 168.94 million bags in coffee year 2019-20 Image Credit: Skitterphoto/

Coffee was first introduced to the world in 850 AD by Ethiopian goat herder – Kaldi – who noticed an increase in physical activity among his goats after they consumed a few beans. From then, as news moved east – coffee reached the Arabian Peninsula and the first coffee plant was found on Yemeni terrains – from where its beans were exported to the rest of the world.

The hot beverage was first introduced in Europe during the 16th century, and this marked the beginning of an era for Javaphiles (people who love to drink coffee), all over the world.

Indian Coffee Culture

According to the India Brand Equity Foundation (established by the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India), India is the third-largest producer and exporter of coffee in Asia.

In terms of world coffee productions and exports, India ranks at number 6 and number 5, respectively.

Did you know? 
In an excerpt by New Zealand food historian David Burton’s book The Raj at Table (1993) he says, "India's first coffee house opened in Calcutta after the battle of Plassey in 1780”.

Today, coffee plays an integral part among the citizens of India especially since international chains – like Starbucks, Costa – have established themselves in the country.

Popular local coffee joints include Indian Coffee House and Café Coffee Day, among others.

South India's love for filter coffee

The architecture of Trivandrum's Indian Coffee House – designed by British-Indian architect Laurie Baker – is one of the most recognizable structures in the district

When in South India, drinking a glass of filter coffee at the end of your meal is the right way to end a traditional breakfast.

A traditional South Indian restaurant has an entirely different ambience. No, we’re not talking about the interiors, but the feeling of home.

If you have ever visited a local restaurant in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, you’d be able to relate to it. If not, this is your chance to step into the dining culture of the South.

The smell of incense sticks, ghee (clarified butter) dosa, hot and crispy vada and the aroma of a freshly brewed glass of filter coffee. That’s all there is, and of course it’s always about the little things.

In addition to this, the first Indian Coffee House opened in Thrissur on March 8, 1958 and was the fourth ICH in the country. The society now has over 50 branches across Kerala alone.

What is Indian Coffee House?
A popular restaurant chain all over India, the Indian Coffee House is run by worker co-operative societies and has over 400 branches today. Indian Coffee House is also famous for starting several geo-political movements over the years, and can be spotted at airports and other visitor-friendly places.

Yes, the filter coffee is exclusive to South India, but it can be found at any South Indian restaurant all over the country (and beyond) as well. 

How is filter coffee made?

To make filter coffee, the beans are usually medium-roasted and finely ground and blended (sometimes) with roasted chicory – which produces a distinct aroma, flavour and colour to the coffee grounds before brewing Image Credit: Shutterstock

The strong yet milky decoction is made using a stainless steel coffee filter. As per tradition, the coffee filter consists of two cups, with one nesting on top of the other.

The cup on top is slotted and holds the coffee grounds, which will allow the brew to drip into the cup below.

Once collected below, a pressing disc will compress the grounds to keep the undiluted decoction warm during the brewing process.

After the coffee is brewed – the decoction is aerated with sugar and hot milk – and is poured back and forth between a traditional dabarah and tumbler.

What is a dabarah? 
A small stainless steel cup (or saucer) with a lip that can resist heat. The tumbler is a slightly broader and smaller vessel on which the dabarah is placed.
Once brewed and cooled to the drinking temperature, the filter coffee is served in the traditional dabarah and tumbler itself Image Credit: Shutterstock

Sometimes, Chicory – a flowering plant – is used as a substitute for coffee, or added to the coffee as well. The root of this plant is taken as an alternative to the coffee bean, especially since it does not create (what is often termed as) a strong java buzz.

Don’t brew’d over it… have a filter coffee instead

As the filter coffee continues to retain its popularity, you would be surpised as to how many name variations the hot beverage has.

Some of those include: Meter coffee, kaapi or Madras kaapi, Madras filter coffee, Kumbakonam degree coffee, Mylapore filter coffee, Mysore filter coffee, or Palakkad Iyer coffee.

The filter coffee is also referred to as a drip brew coffee outside India, due to its distinct form of preparation.

Filter Coffee from CCL
Traditional filter coffee served in a dabarah Image Credit: Charles Haynes/

In the mood for filter coffee? 'Kaapi' that! Here's a traditional recipe made using the filter:

Preparation time: 3 - 4 hours

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Serves: 2


5 tsp coffee grounds (try traditional Indian brands, like Narasu's, Bru and iD)

75 ml warm water

3 tsp sugar

2 cups milk


Take the traditional filter, leave the sieve on, add the coffee grounds and add the warm water. The coffee decoction will drip down and collect below, slowly.

Time for some 'kaapi'. Take the milk. Heat it till it boils with three teaspoons of sugar.

Take off the flame then add two tablespoons of the filter decoction. Whip lightly to get a frothy top. Pour into two tumblers called 'dabarah', serve hot.

Recipe courtesy: Soumini Alexander, India

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