A Cuppa coffee at Madras Cafe in Chennai

21 Jul

Earlier this year I found myself in Chennai for a quick 3 day trip. With no specific agenda, the highlights of this trip were meeting with my two friends – Deepa and Sridar, making a new friend – Lavanya (Deepa’s adorable 3-year-old daughter who only spoke Tamil), loads of shopping (no – no gold and no sarees) and loads of amazing coffee. With Deepa as an amazing host and Sridhar as a perfect guide, I saw and tasted a small slice of this city.

A cup of filter coffee. Pic courtesy - wikipedia

A cup of filter coffee. Pic courtesy – wikipedia

While I loved a lot of things in Chennai, my absolute favorite was and always is the filter coffee (pronounced as “filter kapi”).  Traditionally north and west India (where I come from) have been more tea drinking areas, whereas South India has always been a coffee drinking area. Now with a huge cultural shakeout within India, coffee has traveled and made home in a the taste buds of a lot of us (me included) but somehow no one has ever been able to replicate the taste of an authentic filter coffee here. So  it is no surprise that whenever I am in Chennai, the first thing I ask anyone for is – my cup of “filter coffee”.

So what makes the taste of this filter coffee so unique? First and foremost – the beans. The most commonly used beans are robusta (grown locally in South India) and mixed in a certain proportion with chicory. Secondly the method of preparation. This coffee is prepared using a simple filter which is specifically designed for the preparation of this coffee.

A coffee filter. Pic courtesy - wikipedia

A coffee filter. Pic courtesy – wikipedia

This filter is made up of 2 parts – a cup which is placed at the bottom and a second cup which has numerous perforations and is placed at the top. Depending on the “strength / strong” coffee required, coffee powder (Around 2 -3 tsps) is added to the cup with the perforations (also this coffee powder is not very finely ground). Then hot water is gently poured over the coffee, and the dark strong coffee drips and collects in the cup below. Based on your preference, you can have this black or add milk in the amounts required. And the result is definitely an amazing cup of coffee.

Now the serving of this coffee in coffee shops here is an art too. They serve it in a small glass placed in a tumbler (As seen in the pic above). If you ask the server then using a very practiced art, he pours (or rather flips) the coffee from the cup to the tumbler from a distance at times as much 2 feet and not a drop of coffee is spilled. This has 2 benefits – it cools the coffee instantly and also makes a remarkable sight for the tourists. 🙂

During my February trip to Chennai, I had coffee in quite a few places but there were 2 coffee shops that were my particular favorites. Today I am writing about the first i.e. Madras Cafe in the Isapahani Centre. On one of the days, after roaming around for a bit we felt like having a good cup of coffee and Sridhar took me to this small nondescript cafe.

Madras Cafe, Isapahani Centre

Madras Cafe, Isapahani Centre

At the first glance, this place is actually a small hole in the wall with not more than 7 tables and an extremely small kitchenette on the side. However what is lacks in space it makes up for it in the ambience and its cafe.

In terms of the ambience, I loved the small cafe feel of the place with old world black & white pictures of Chennai on one wall and bamboo curtains and quaint lamps all around. They also had pretty quick service. So no guesses that the moment he brought the coffee, I got him to flip it for us and then quickly dived right at the coffee. And the taste of this coffee was what sealed the deal for me. It was all any good cup of filter coffee is supposed to be – strong, refreshing, heavenly and above all uniquely tasty. They had food too but I was only happy with my coffee. Though Sridhar told me that this cafe has changed faces and menus numerous times in a short span of time, I hope this stays as it is in its present avatar for a long long time.

So the next time you are in Chennai and in need of a good cuppa coffee, then do try small cafe out and do share your experiences 🙂

18 Responses to “A Cuppa coffee at Madras Cafe in Chennai”

  1. Fae's Twist & Tango July 22, 2013 at 00:23 #

    – Very interesting! India is the 7th top producer of coffee after all! I don’t drink coffee, but when it comes to coffees made with powder and served in a ceremonial like form you had, I’m all in!
    – I had been watching Korean program for a while, and they too pronounce coffee, kapi (or kopi). I wonder how do the Ethiopian (origin) say the word. In Farsi, we pronounce it ghahfé, served in very small tea cups, of course called ghahfé cups. 😀


    • getsetandgo July 24, 2013 at 20:46 #

      Wow, thats some lovely info on coffee and its different names. I think I’ll definitely research more on this and write a separate post soon 🙂


  2. B July 22, 2013 at 06:26 #

    Oh! The only place I’ve found that style of filter is Vietnam and now I see there is a similar system in Chennai! (I wonder if there’s a historical reason for the similarity?)

    It’s delicious. I must admit I haven’t mastered it myself yet – I have a filter but somehow it comes out tasting pretty so-so. I’ll have to scrutinise your instructions and have another go – because I know it should tasta better.


    • getsetandgo July 24, 2013 at 20:48 #

      Hi, Thanks for sharing and I’ll look up for more info on Vietnamese coffee and the filters. I think the difference in taste could possibly be because of the difference in coffee beans. Also, I have heard that in a Vietnamese coffee, they use condensed milk instead of normal milk.


  3. abrachan July 22, 2013 at 08:29 #

    Yes, filter coffee at south India is unique. No other coffee can match it.


  4. InnerDialect July 22, 2013 at 09:52 #

    Ahhhh could taste that coffee, thanks for the share, loved it…


  5. V. Sridhar July 22, 2013 at 22:09 #

    Most honoured to find my name mentioned here 🙂


    • getsetandgo July 24, 2013 at 20:49 #

      You will find more mentions in the upcoming Chennai posts too 🙂


  6. sharu4ever July 24, 2013 at 00:02 #

    Wow, happy moment for a Chennaite and a filter-coffee-addict like 🙂



    • getsetandgo July 24, 2013 at 21:11 #

      Its good to meet other coffee addicts here. So here’s to many more cuppas 🙂


  7. charmsofagypsy July 28, 2013 at 22:10 #

    You have such an amazing blog! Thank you for stopping by mine. 🙂 I can’t wait to read more of your posts. I’m particularly fond of this one! Coffee is one of my greatest addictions, I must say.


    • getsetandgo July 29, 2013 at 21:55 #

      Thanks for visiting my blog and for the kind words 🙂


  8. Gitanjali Singh Cherian August 14, 2013 at 14:36 #

    Next time you’re in Chennai, have a Kumbakonam Degree Coffee at Sangeetha Fast Food in RA Puram (I hope the place still exists, as I was last there about 5 years ago!)


    • getsetandgo August 14, 2013 at 19:52 #

      Hey, thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely try it the next time I am in Chennai 🙂


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