Travel Thursday #11: The best coffee in the world. India.

Coffee in India

Making coffee in South India is an art.

It takes time. It takes technique. It takes experience. It takes mindfulness.

Perhaps it is an art handed down from generation to generation.

Good coffee in South India is SO good, there is no doubt in my mind that it has taken lifetimes to perfect.

Travel

Unfortunately, not all coffee in South India is good South Indian Coffee. Unfortunately, the ubiquitousness of instant coffee has meant the demise of the wonderful traditional South Indian coffee in many places. Unfortunately, the quickness of powder, chosen over the hours of making a great coffee, has compromised the taste. But the traditional maker is still to be found, if you seek carefully.

Instant Coffee in India

On my recent trip to India I had not had a decent coffee in weeks. It is always a puzzle to me why hotels cannot make a good coffee? Why is that? Someone should institute a study of hotel coffee.

I was staying at the Trishul in Tiruvannamalai, a great pilgrim hotel. I wandered back to the room one afternoon after a tiring day of temple visiting, needing a shower bucket bath and a rest, and said to my room mate – I fancy a coffee.

The man in the corridor took my order, and then took it a second time. Sometimes good things have to be ordered twice.

About 15 minutes after the second order, he knocks and walks straight into our room with a tray, two metal teapot-like jugs, and two cups. Something smelt like heaven. No really, it smelt like heaven. A few rupees later, I am exploring the jugs – one had a very strong black almost syrupy liquid, the other had boiling milk, already sweetened.

We poured the coffee – a couple of tablespoons of the strong coffee, and the rest milk.

We took a sip.

I nearly fell off of my bed.

It was the best coffee that I have ever tasted.

Seriously.

Strong, sweet, milky coffee with a real coffee flavour. A real coffee flavour. Strong. Sweet. Cofffeeeee. Good. Very. Very. Good.

A ritual was established – coffee at the Trishul every afternoon of our stay in Tiruvannamalai. Sadly, it was the only most excellent coffee that I found on this trip. I took to drinking chai, and became addicted to it. But that is a story for another post.

Coffee Man 1 India

Coffee Man 2 India Coffee Man India 3 Coffee Man India 4

What makes the difference?

There are several factors, as far as I can gather, that make all the difference. And I welcome your comments too.

Firstly, hot water is dripped very slowly through the grounds – it will take several hours, and produces a very strong thick coffee.

Secondly, the milk is boiled. Boiling milk changes its taste – something known to our Asian and Indian neighbours but not generally known or well used in the West. Boiling milk makes it sweeter somehow. We know that it changes the milk – you need to boil milk first to make paneer or yoghurt, so there are some chemical changes that occur during the boiling. But the taste alters also.

Thirdly, boiled milk is easily frothed to get that characteristic top on good South Indian coffee. In South India this is done by pouring the coffee and milk back and forth between the cup, which is made of metal, and a larger, serving bowl also made of metal. The pouring is done in an arc, allowing the person to get a large distance between the cup and the bowl, and this in turn cools the coffee – milk mixture, absorbs prana into the coffee from the air, and froths the milk.

And finally, the love and the pride that the good coffee maker puts into his art surely adds a sweetness to the coffee that cannot be produced by sugar alone.

Coffee Man India 5

Reproducing South Indian Coffee at home

Most excitingly, I have managed to buy a South Indian coffee maker and have made some great cups of coffee that take me right back to the Trishul. It is a 2-compartment container with tamper. Ground coffee is placed in the top, boiling water is poured over this, and the coffee collects in the bottom container.

However, I will leave it to the experts to explain in better detail the knack of making it. Just keep in mind that it is not a 2 minute wonder. Good things take time to make. Good coffee can take an hour or two.

Making South Indian Coffee on the Stovetop

There is a great video on YouTube which takes you through the very traditional ritual of making coffee without any special equipment. It is amazing and fascinating to watch the attention that this beautiful brown-amber liquid gets. The result is so good.

Making Filter Coffee

Filter Coffee India Travel My Diverse Kitchen details making South Indian Filter coffee with the equipment that I described above. Her post describes how to use the equipment and has great photos. The photo on the right comes from this site.

The Yum Blog also has a post that describes this method with a wonderful slide show of the method.

Saffron Trail talks about her Mother-in-law’s method of making filter coffee.

And Salius’ Kitchen writes about making filter coffee with a very old brass filter coffee maker.

Arun Shanbhag nostalgically discusses kaapi (indian coffee) and how he makes it at home - including which coffee to buy. Great photos.

Eatomaniac makes Sth Indian coffee every morning and has great pics to show how to make a good cuppa joe.

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About Ganga108

Heat in the Kitchen, Cooking with Spirit. Temple junkie, temple builder, temple cleaner. Lover of life, people, cultures, travel. Champion of growth, change and awareness. Taker of photos. Passionate about family. Happy.
This entry was posted in Indian, Photography, Teas, Drinks and other liquids, Travel, TT and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Travel Thursday #11: The best coffee in the world. India.

  1. arundathi says:

    that’s so true that hotels can’t make coffee – they come out as sweet american coffee, which is just plain bad. i like american coffee for the bitterness and indian coffee for the sweetness and milk – but you cannot combine the two.

    yes, the slow dripping of the water through the grounds is essential. its funny that though I’m south Indian, my family always made the worst coffee! its definitely an art! we only offer tea to our guests! lol!

    Maybe there is a business in teaching hotels how to make coffee. It is uniformally aweful around the world.

    There really must be an art to the coffee making. I am convinced of it.

  2. Srivalli says:

    lovely post vegeyum!…we love coffee..and the day is not started if we dont’ have…my mom makes the best one of course!..:0)…now I have kind of got the hang!…come down anytime our home for a filter coffee!…

    My first activity each morning is to make a coffee too. How lucky you are that your mom makes the best one.

    Thanks for the invite. I will be there shortly.

  3. Sasi says:

    Wow i dint know the best coffee was made in Indian :P

    Im of Malaysia so yea…and yes am the 4th Generation South Indian here :)

    YOu guys speak tamil ??

    Hi Sasi, glad to see you here. Welcome. No tamil spoken here, tho. Only memories of wonderful coffee. You are so close to India maybe you could pop over for a cup. :-) It really is the best.

  4. giniann says:

    I have a coffee filter for south indian coffee but no matter what I do I can’t seem to duplicate the taste. I blame it on the coffee I use.

    Hi giniann. Yes, i think the quality of coffee always depends a lot on the coffee beans that you use. Also, if you watch the youTube video he talks about adding some chickory. Maybe that also adds to the taste. The person on the video is very particular about his coffee blend.

  5. Suganya says:

    Isn’t that the best coffee? Inexpensive equipment, high quality ingredients and patience – thats the formula :)

    I agree, truly the best. I like your formula. Patience. Yes.

  6. Smita says:

    ooh – lovely post. I fell in love with coffee in Melbourne :-) So now I have this impression that Australians really know their coffee :-)

    In Melbourne? Good coffee there – really great coffee in Adelaide. We do really know our coffee, and in Adelaide prefer an Italian style. It is great. But South Indian coffee – well, it is in a class of its own.

  7. TBC says:

    I *love* filter coffee made the South Indian way. My mom makes the best filter coffee (kaapi- as we call it) ever! :-)
    I am a tea person though, and have coffee only during weekends.

    Only on weekends? I think my blood flow would dry up if I restricted my coffee to weekends.

  8. tara says:

    Sadly, the last time I was in India I had not yet acquired my current love of coffee – at that time I was all about the pulled tea, another artful beverage. I will have to feebly attempt this at home to see what I missed.

    Hi Tara, what a pity you weren’t able to try the coffee last time you were in India. It sounds like a good excuse to go again ….

  9. Sasi says:

    You hafta hit me up – am so intrigue over your blog and your food topic, simply awsome :)

    Rasam , Kaapi , Banana Leaf Rice the bruschetta – and all – its just overwhelming – Keep up the good work – will drop by often – infact am even adding u in my RSS fedd – Cheers mate

    Please do dropby my blog :)

    Sasi, thank you! Glad you found some things that you like. I would love to visit your blog, but it did not link properly to your comments.

  10. Aparna says:

    Agree with you completely. An “instant/ Nescafe” coffee culture is taking over. I’m not putting this down but it doesn’t come up tp the real thing.
    Good filter coffee is scarce in hotels across South India but it is easily available, especially in smaller hotels, in Tamilnadu but one would specificall ask for “filter coffee”.
    Btw, there’s one more aspect to making good filter coffee at home and that’s lots of practise. I know! :)
    One more thing. Filter coffee will not produce froth when poured if you use artificial sweetners. Only sugar works here.:(

    Hi Aparna, good to see you settling in to Goa. I have a particular fondness for Sinquerim, Panjim, the Mandovi and many of the tiny fishing villages along the river. Interesting information about artificial sweetners – clearly the sugar adds to its “frothability”. I wonder what other tips there are for perfecting the art of filter coffee?

  11. KitchenGoddess83 says:

    Wonderful post on a wonderful blog.

    That coffee looks out of this world, please somebody pass me a cup ;)

    Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. Yes, let’s have coffee!

  12. Jackie says:

    How I would love to try some that original Indian coffee; it sounds delicious!

    Hi Jackie, I glad that the yumminess of the coffee comes across in the post. It is quite different to more well known coffee styles (Italian, French, American etc) and just the best.

  13. axinia says:

    really amazing news! I love India but somehow never tried a coffe there, because the masala-tea is great enough :)

    Hi axina. Next time, see if you can find a great (not instant) coffee.

  14. blog52 says:

    Great post!

    But now you’ve got me craving a real, South Indian coffee. Where to find one….

    Only in India, only in India…….

  15. Marika says:

    Awesome post and great blog – I have appreciated coffee for a very long time. I’ve tried coffee made in the Vietnamese tradition and liked it very much – I am intrigued by the Indian method of making coffee that you’ve so eloquently described. I would like to try it!

    Do you know if it is possible to buy the proper metal filter contraption online somewhere? I’ve made some initial searches but have so far come up empty.

    I think that you can buy them – just look for south indian filter coffee maker.

    I have heard about Vietnamese coffee and it sounds wonderful. I wonder if it was influenced by the French? I suspect so.

  16. bipsblog says:

    I had the world’s best coffee on a train from Mumbai to Goa once on a summer trip to India. I have never been able to make it like so, as much as I have tried, and nowhere else can I find coffee quite the way this man balancing a giant thermos flask and cups on a turbulent train ride made so effortlessly.

    Oh, don’t you just treasure those moments! I will meet you in Tiruvannamalai at the Trishul, and after that we will ride the train Mumbai to Goa and back (after a week at Sinquerim).

  17. What a beautiful tribute to coffee.
    Before my conversion to Almond milk, I was an avid coffee drinker. Actually have a couple of those south indian coffee makers (a one cup and 2 cup version).

    I find the traditional coffee here to be very acidic. The south indian coffee is beautifully sweet; this is perhaps due to all that ‘prana’ infused into the “kaapi.”

    We are off to bharat next month and I am looking forward to some excellent “kaapi.”

    The traditional kaapi is served in a pair of steel cups – as seen in the last pic here.

    A toast to Kaapi!

    Its a great pic! Enjoy the kaapi with all of its prana…. Wish I was there…

  18. I haven’t tried South Indian coffee yet, but this seems just as thick as Vietnamese and Turkish coffee, which I love. Great story!

    Not quite the same as turkish. I am not sure about Vietnamese although I think theirs was probably influenced by the french. I think indian kaapi is in a class of its own….

  19. janetching says:

    Hi Aum, I am a new kid in the blog. I like your foodblog v much and currently exploring and try to establish one for myself. I have problem in linking the posts in my related topic. e.g like you link all your travel posts together. I tried and almost there but it appears in both pages iCook and iTravel in my blog. Can you be kind enough to give me some tips how to do it? Thx a lot

    Hi janetching, as you didn’t leave your URL I can’t have a look at your blog and see what is happening. hard to tell from your comment.

  20. janetching says:

    Hi Aum, thanks for replying. My url is janetching.wordpress.com
    Many thanks and look forward to exchanging the food or cooking experience with you.

  21. janetching says:

    Dear Aum, just to let you know that I initially have created a blog in blogger. http://janet-ceo.blogspot.com but as I continue writing I feel I want to not just writing about recipes or eating out, I also want to write about the funny things I come across when I travel. And I thought wordpress can allow me to have subject so they are much neater and if I contiue to write, it’s easier to file accordingly when it is related to food or travel. Cheers

  22. maritasays says:

    Incredible post. For a moment I was transported to a hotel room in India sipping something I have never tasted before. There is something about how surprising the first sip of a truly great coffee is. Guess I’ll just have to go to the Trishul in Tiruvannamalai now.

    I will meet you there!

  23. spar says:

    Great Post. Reminds me of my quest to duplicate that “perfect South Indian filter coffee” here in the US. This is what I learnt:

    Coffee Beans – a coffee shop owner (not the cafes but a shop that sells good coffee powder) said that Arabica beans are good. We use Seattle Mountain Arabica beans from Costco.

    Use a commercial mill, but get the beans ground to the finest. (will take a good while)

    Use a standard stainless steel coffee filter that you can buy in South India (esp, Tamil Nadu).

    Add water in batches – For making 4 oz decoction, I add water about 4-5 times, little by little spacing it over an hour. The decoction should be really think and not see-through.

    I have heard that it helps to add chicory, but I don’t know where to buy it in the US so have not done that.

    As you said, the milk should be boiled.

    Thus, it is a laborious process, but well worth!

    Hi spar. Thanks for all of this information! It is great. You are right – it should be quite thick.

  24. Rashi says:

    ‘reading this over with a grin on my face, and a cup of instant coffee by my side. (my apologies…I will have to wait until I get a ‘real’ coffee-maker of my own)

    ‘stumbled across your blog today while looking for a good recipe of daal makhani….must say, what a good stumble!

    Please keep posting!

  25. Janani says:

    hi bipsblog,
    I cant believe that you had your best cofee on an Indian train. Were you travelling by the Deccan Odessey ? Because for all that I know, Indian trains serve the worst cofee and tea. Cofee and tea are the best in South except in Kerala. In kerala, the best part is black cofee and black tea and I think no where else in the world will you get such great black cofee and black tea.

  26. Sharanya says:

    hi,
    I strongly agree with ur ideas on south indian coffee…something that I relish every morning. I learned to make a cup of good coffee after a lot of reading and trial and error methods. I am keen to know what coffee powder do u use?

    • Ganga108 says:

      Hi Sharanya, how lucky you are to have the real thing! At home I use a blend of Indian Tiger coffee with some Columbia, but see the comments above from spar.

  27. sree says:

    Thanks for sharing. I really like these lines:
    “The pouring is done ….. milk mixture, absorbs prana into the coffee from the air, and froths the milk. …. good coffee maker puts into his art surely adds a sweetness ….. cannot be produced by sugar alone.”

  28. sonic says:

    I really like your writing style, fantastic info , regards for putting up.

  29. Admin says:

    Interesting to see how the coffee is made in southern India. With such a long dripping time, it should be rather high in caffene I would imagine. Such a long process, would be great to taste a cup.

  30. u captured one of my fav drinks n how its made ! you rock….love this post :D

    cheers
    shruti

  31. B Srinath says:

    hay,

    Coffee taste is more personal. so this experiment will yield results for you. Take roasted seed of different varieties and grind separately before coffee preparation. extract decogtion (concentrate) separately. Heat milk. try different combinations noting the ratios. Dont forget to use chicory for south Indian version. when you land in the best taste near you. Do sensitivity analysis (in small increments) and fix your mix. to me (75+25 PB + Robesta)(75 + 25 PB + PlA) Try seeds in your country. A great Experiement. Tip: do not eat sour food before and after for 30 Mins.) to augment your taste.

    • Arun says:

      Hi Srinath….High grown coffee especially from Chikmagalur hills has the best aroma. I prefer single- origin Arabica though a blend with good quality Robusta wouldn’t be bad.

      Sadly, a bit difficult to get consistently good quality beans in India.

      Cheers!

  32. If your tap water is from a well, you are probably okay.
    Continuing to heat a coffee carafe after it is done brewing will cause the coffee to become
    “burnt” and give it a bitter flavor. It is derived from the Arabic
    beans and made in small pot called ibrik.

  33. Alagammai says:

    Ironically , I just stumbled on this post while i was trying to find the best instant coffee powder in India.. Reminded me of how good filter kapi tastes and how much i relish it … Thank you.. My search still continues ( after pinning your blog to my list ) ….

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