South Indian filter coffee is a coffee drink made by mixing frothed and boiled milk with the infusion obtained by percolation brewing of finely ground coffee powder in a traditional Indian filter. The drink known as Kaapi, is the South Indian phonetic rendering of "coffee". The drink is also referred to as Madras filter coffee, Madras kaapi, Kumbakonam degree coffee, Mylapore filter coffee, or Mysore filter coffee. Outside India the term "filter coffee" may refer to drip brew coffee, which is a distinct form of preparing coffee.
Coffee has been grown in India since the 1600s, when it was first brought to India from Yemen by Muslim saint Baba Budan. The most commonly used coffee beans are arabica and robusta. These are grown in different states of South India, such as in the hills of Karnataka (Kodagu, Chikkamagalur and Hassan), Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris District, Yercaud and Kodaikanal), Kerala (Malabar region) and Andhra Pradesh (Araku Valley). The beans are usually medium-roasted and finely ground and blended with roasted chicory. The final coffee powder composition is typically equal quantities of Plantation A and Peaberry with between 10% and 30% chicory added, producing a distinct aroma, thickness and colour in the resulting brewed coffee.
South Indian filter coffee is brewed with a metal device that resembles two cylindrical cups, one of which has a pierced bottom that nests into the top of the 'tumbler' cup, leaving ample room beneath to receive the brewed coffee. The upper cup has two removable parts: a pierced pressing disc with a central stem handle and a covering lid. (A similar device is used to brew Vietnamese coffee.)
The upper cup is loaded with freshly ground coffee. The grounds are then compressed (tamped) with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup's pierced bottom. The coarser the coffee grinds, the more one must tamp the coffee to obtain the same extraction. With the press disc remaining in place, the upper cup is nested into the top of the tumbler; boiling water is poured in. The lid is placed on top, and the appliance is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory retains the hot water longer, letting the water dissolve and extract more of the ground coffee.
The resulting brew is generally much stronger than Western drip/filter coffee, and often stronger than espresso.
Traditionally, the coffee is consumed by adding 1–2 tablespoons of the brew to a cup of boiling milk with the preferred amount of sugar. The coffee is drunk from the tumbler (although a word of English origin, it seems to be the most commonly used name for this vessel), but is often cooled first with a dabarah - "dabarah" (also pronounced in some regions as 'davarah'): a wide metal saucer with lipped walls.
Coffee is typically served after pouring back and forth between the dabara and the tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand. This serves several purposes: mixing the ingredients (including sugar) thoroughly; cooling the hot coffee to a sipping temperature; and most importantly, aerating the mix without introducing extra water (such as with a steam wand used for frothing cappucinos). An anecdote related to the distance between the pouring and receiving cup leads to another name for the drink, "Meter Coffee".
Coffee is something of a cultural icon in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu , Andhra Pradesh especially the Coastal Andhra regions, whereas in Telangana and Kerala, Chai is a cultural icon. It is customary to offer a cup of coffee or tea to any visitor. Coffee was originally introduced by Baba Budan to South India in the 17th century and became very popular under British rule. Until the middle of the 20th century traditional households would not use granulated sugar but used jaggery or honey in coffee. The coffee culture in India has had a renaissance of sorts with the establishment of popular and contemporary chains like Cafe Coffee Day and Starbucks.
Popular Indian lore says that on a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 16th century Baba Budan, a revered Sufi saint from Karnataka state, discovered the wonders of coffee. Eager to grow coffee at home, he smuggled seven coffee beans from the Yemeni port of Mocha in his garments. Returning home, he planted the beans on the slopes of the Chandragiri Hills in Kadur district, Mysore State (present-day Karnataka). This hill range was later named after him as the Baba Budan Hills. His tomb is near Chikmagalur.
Indian filter coffee was popularised by the India Coffee Houses run by the Coffee Board of India since the mid-1940s. It became the drink of millions after the emergence of more popular Indian Coffee Houses in the mid-1950s.
Indian filter coffee migrated overseas in the early 20th century to Malaysia and Singapore, where kopi tarik (pulled coffee) is a close cousin of the Madras filter coffee-by-the-yard / metre, and was introduced at roadside kopi tiams run originally by Indian Muslims.