Chennai Coffee

It may not be as famous as Colombian worldwide, but in Chennai, ‘filter’ coffee is the drink to have. The original is served in stainless steel cups, not in pretty ceramic. You still have places where a tumbler full of coffee is inverted inside a larger bowl. You carefully unpack the scalding hot liquid, let it flow into the larger bowl, and enjoy in small batches. Across Tamil Nadu, coffee shops mean the ones that stock the beans and grind them on request. No self-respecting Chennaiite will stock more than a week’s supply of the aromatic powder. In every house, there is a filter, a small stainless steel vessel with two compartments. Into the top compartment, you put 2-3 spoons of coffee powder, pour boiling hot water and allow it to slowly drip into the lower compartment. The resulting black, viscous decoction is the real thing, not the ‘instant’ powders that masquerade as coffee.

Every morning, this is the aroma that greets you as you walk along the Marina beach or the hundreds of roadside cafes. It has produced a wealth of variations as well – and one of the better known is Kumbakonam ‘degree’coffee. The difference is marginal ( Both are made by the filter method but the ‘degree’ coffee apparently has milk made much thicker by condensing it) but purists will throw a fit and will argue the matter for days and months – over steaming cups filter coffee, ‘degree’ or otherwise.

The lattes and the cappuccinos may be served at the swankier coffee cafes, but to the locals, nothing works as well as the original filter coffee. It’s the original pick-me-up, the drink to have in the morning along with the newspaper. Nothing really can replace the feeling, especially the faintly metallic tang of the stainless steel tumblers filled to the brim with the hot, frothy liquid.