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.
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.
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.
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 🙂