Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kaapi Time

I was quite early to the airport last week. Reached very early as if I was going to fly international. I end up proving my stupidity time and again. Anyways, so obviously, to kill time, I browsed, read blogs, until my laptop battery started dying. Then did I realize I have a tummy too and it was groaning all the while...rats running inside :-D

There was a Barista near the gate where I was sitting. Ordered an Italian club sandwich and cappuccino. Sipping this cappuccino, couldn't help reminiscing about the desy and authentic KAAPI, a Tamil sobriquet for Coffee.

Just a few words about Kaapi here - also called as 'Degree Kaapi' or 'Filter Kaapi'. Its indigenous to South India for the way it is prepared, has better nutritional value since the milk quantity is more. The coffee beans are arabica, robusta, peaberry and malabar.

Preparing coffee, each morning, was a religious ritual in itself; especially in a traditional Iyengar household. Along with the holy chants, the bells and the aroma of incense sticks and camphor, were the clunk-clunk of the traditional coffee filter and the aroma of fresh coffee. The secret art of preparing coffee was a gift handed over by mother to daughter, to daughter-in-law so that the legacy was preserved.

My summer vacations were spent in Chennai each year as a kid. The humidity, the heat, the sultriness....all these could be pardoned for the idea of savoring coffee each morning and each evening. During my grandma's time, coffee beans were roasted along with chicory in a secret ratio, and then grounded, so the coffee powder was home-made. The coffee story in my time was a bit modern. Coffee was no more grounded at home, but bought ready-made from an equally traditional and authentic makers of coffee powder.

My perimma would wake up as early as 4 AM. I have no idea when the concoction would be prepared. We kids woke up to the chants of subrabatam and the aroma of fresh coffee. The coffee filter, a heavy brass one, inherited from her grandma; was a family legacy. It had 2 compartments, the bottom one which would hold the dripping thick decoction, the upper compartment with tiny holes at the bottom. The upper compartment would be slid into the bottom one, 4 heaped spoons of coffee powder would go into the upper chamber, a stemmed disc would be pressed onto it to balance, and then some magical quantity of boiling water. Magical because I never ever get what is the right quantity of water to be added to get that perfect decoction. As the water delicately kiss the granules and merges with the coffee powder, subtle aroma of coffee would explode, the edge of the compartment would be given three to four gentle and abrupt staccatos taps, then the lid tightly secured.

The decoction would slowly percolate and collect at the bottom chamber. This is a pre-preparation of coffee. This coffee filter occupied a prominent place in the kitchen. I would call it the sanctum sanatorium of the kitchen. It was always at the line of sight. The milk, thick and creamy with not a drop of water would be boiled and ready.

As we would try waking up from sleep, perimma would yell from the kitchen amidst chanting shlokas "Ezunthukko dee, palla techuttu vaa, kaapi tharraen!!" (Wake up girl, brush your teeth, will fetch coffee for you)

As we woke up and went away to finish our brushing, perimma would then start the second stage of coffee preparation. I would straight walk into the kitchen "Perimma, coffee tharela?"(Aunt, may I have my coffee). To which she would ask "Pallu thechutteya?"(Did you bursh?) And I would reply "Hmm perimma, coffee thaango"(Yes aunt, give me the coffee please). She would say "Idho di, aayidthu".(Yes dear, in a moment)

The hot milk would be poured until half full in a stainless steel tumbler which was heavy. No porcelain cups whatsoever, sort of alien that was. The decoction from the bottom container would be poured next until she was satisfied and thought that the mixture was appropriate and the colour perfect and the aroma just blended with the milk. Sugar added, she would then transfer this aromatic mixture to a wider cup(dabara), back and forth, until the sugar was mixed, the warmth just fine and the froth overflowing the tumbler. She wold then pour down a couple of drops into dabara, take a swallow, and make sure its as perfect as her earlier preparation.

The tumbler would then be placed inside the dabara and handed it over to us. We would then transfer part of the piping hot coffee into the dabara and savor the delicious beverage. This was the best punch ever to kick start your day!!

Just reminiscing these things while holding a cappuccino, only to realise it was lukewarm now :-|

Anyways Filter Kaapi anyone?


  1. can feel the aroma !

    no cofee can match the south indian kappi made with love :)

  2. apo athu bru illaya..anyways nothing like the good old degree capi..with that norai on top of it..and my pati have it straight from the stove.they like it

  3. though i am not a huge fan of filter kapi despite being a south indian...i can understand how elated you must be feeling on thinking of that kaapi :)

  4. i m not a coffee person myself, but for the first time, you made me take an interest in it...very well described...

  5. Hi AS,

    Hehehehe...did you? Heaven..

    Just the same thought, its ok if its not made at home, just authentic and simple south Indian coffee anywhere to pep you up!!

  6. Hi soin,

    Welcome to B Log.
    Ippovum niraya per BRU thaan use panraanga. Its sad.

    One needs to have an eye to admire the froth, the nose to take in the aroma and the ears to hear the clunk-clunk of the tumbler..

    Thanks much for your comments. Keep visiting!

  7. Hi Gayathri,

    I can manage with chai, coffee anything. But filter coffee always is a special one. You bet!! I was really elated at the thought of filter kaapi :-)

  8. Hi Neha,

    Thank you much. Glad you liked it. And try an authentic filter coffee once, I am sure you would love it.


  9. I am afraid I turn into an authentic, true blue bengali when it comes to hot beverages. Nothing but pure darjeeling for me. But I must say that I love the smell of coffee, specially when the beans are being grinded. Enjoy your cuppa.

  10. Hi Aparna,

    I have few Bengali friends who swear by authentic Darjeeling chai. They also do away with Assam.

    And the sweets, I was introduced to some nice sweets by my Bengali friend. We used to ride 10 kms away to a Bengal store to savor sweets. I don't remember most names as I didn't really concentrate when he used to talk about them but just gorge on them. My favorite is Mishti Doi :-)

  11. Excellent narration. Super. The trick is the top portion of the coffee tumblar (cup) should have maximum froth.

    Another important ritual is when you drink the kappi, the tumblar should not touch the lips. Thookki kudikanum. Kudikanum means "to drink". I am not that much educated to translate "thookki" in English. If anyone knows, I will appreciate.

    PS: Perimma can be either your mother's elder sister or your father's elder brother's sister.

  12. Hi SG,

    Thank you for the comments.

    'thooki kudukkanum' i just mentioned in my post as swallow - i didnt add without touching the lips though :-)

    As kids, we were pardoned for sipping coffee though elders followed it.

    Perimma here is my father elder brother's wife.

  13. Wow... I can almost smell the steaming coffee...nice post n a lovely blog... Jus blog hopped here... You will be seeing me around :)

  14. Hi Lakshmi,

    Welcome to B Log:-)

    Did ya? Isn't it therapeutic?

    Glad you liked the post and the blog. Keep visiting! :-)

  15. I'm a big coffee freak myself!! Coming from a Brahmin family from Andhra Pradesh.. My story is an exact replica of your story when it comes to coffee!

    As a kid my mom never used to let me drink the wonderful "Degree" coffee. I used to make secret pact with my dear Papa that The BORING milk glass of mine would receive the Ambrosial touch of coffee he drank - All at the ignorance of MOM !! But while at my grandmom's place during the vacation. It was Royal treatment for me. Filter coffee twice a day. I used to grin from ear to ear when i drank that magic potion ( and by the way its always been 70-30 proportion) !!! . The strong and wonderful taste of coffee used to be there till the evening dinner!! such was da love affair with it. And now years later the affair continues! The only thing that can get me out of the maddening tiredness after a day's work is the Super Magical Filter KAPI!!

    I have been in Chennai for an year and love the Kapi at Murugan Idly Shop at besant Nagar! A plate of delicious Idly and then the Filter Kapi can set things rolling. No wonder they say - "Lots Can Happen Over Coffee!"

    Thanx for writing a wonderful piece!! reminds me of the good old days at ma grand mom!! MISS her now!

    Kapi Please!!

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Kaapi rocks! Although I'd have to go with the crisp aroma of Darjeeling chai...nothing like a cup of that!
    Bong genes y'know :P

    Coffee's probably the only hot drink that I can possibly get right at the first go. Rest just boils over.

  18. Hi Rammy,

    Thanks much for sharing your story. you are absolutely right when you say any tiredness can be driven away with a strong cuppa. :-)

    Kaapi anytime!! :-)

  19. Hi Shaunak,

    Kaapi rocks ad nice masala chai rocks too!!

    Are you serious? Do you get your coffee right? Thats brilliant, I never seem to get the milk and the decoction ratio strong. Hmmm......

  20. It works for me maybe coz I like my coffee a lot stronger than most people. So less milk, more coffee concoction...Takes a lot to keep my sleepy butt awake at night :P

  21. Hmm, that makes sense... Getting a coffee strong or light is ok-ok..getting the right mixture...:-( I really dont get it

  22. i personally feel the smell of coffee is one of the divine aromas..

    Cant live without it...

    Make website india

  23. Hi workhard,

    Welcome to B Log. :-)
    Rightly said. I second each word of yours. 'Divine aroma' yup!!

    Keep visiting!

  24. Aha, Filter Kaapi! I agree, nothing like it. The Cappuccinos, The Caffe Lattes, The Mochas... hmmph, they all pale in comparision to the Filter Kaapi.

    Good post. Now I am longing for a Filter Kaapi. Look what you've done to me :-)

  25. Again, a lovely sensuous read yaar. There is something about coffee, isn't it? Such a fantastic aroma... I miss the filter coffee made by mom. But, my Iyer and Iyengar roomies makes filter coffee everyday, and I do have it once in a while when I crave it. I hardly have coffee outside here and I have it only when I am craving black coffee. I think I will ask these guys to make filter coffee for me too today morning. It is 8 am you see. :-)

    It rained only for a day this fall in San Jose. My roomie and I went out for a walk in the downtown to enjoy rain. Walking on the shining tiled roads, looking up slurping the rain drops, you see the rain drops glow high up around the archaic street lamps... Super time... It was cold that night, and it was one of those rare days when I went to star bucks to get a cup of coffee. Usually, the people at star bucks are friendly. But that day was a little different. I wanted hot coffee so that I can sip it along under the rain. To make things bad, I ordered room for cream as well. The coffee was so cold and when I added some more milk, it messed it up. I told the lady, in a gentle manner of why it was not as hot as the other days. She was pissed off for some reason and shouted back at me, "What do you mean it is not hot enough?" On any other day I would have adjusted and said it was alright and would have peacefully handled the situation. However, it was raining that night. I wanted to enjoy my coffee, not just take it for the sake of caffeine and stay awake in the classroom! I was not really happy for what happened next. I glared back at her and said, "Do you pride on working at star bucks? Firstly, there is better customer service in a pharmacy, and screw you for not understanding that it is an art making a cup of coffee!" I shoved the coffee back to her and I walked away. But the cold breeze and the tingling rain drops brought my mood back. And I was at peace... :-)

  26. Hey Gautam,

    Thanks for the comments and for sharing the story. Yeah I get the entire picture, the rain drops, the glazed roads, the water drops gleaming due to the street lights, sad that you got your coffee cold.

    Hmm, enjoy your cuppa today :-)

  27. Heiyya Parikshith,


    Thanks much for your comments and for visiting my blog.

    Absolutely!! Nothing like an aromatic filter kaapi aint it?

    Aaaawww, any time filter kaapi is heavenly. Now you've got one more lovely chance to savor it on this pretext. I'll take the credit :-)

    Hope to see you more here.

  28. Not a coffe person, but whenever I want ..its south Indian filter kaapi:)

  29. And the coffee here does not taste that good either. Nothing like our filter coffee!

  30. Hi Antarman,

    Thanks for your comments and welcome to B Log :-)
    If not a coffee person, and in case want to savor coffee once in a while, best is the south Indian filter coffee :-)

    Keep visiting!

  31. Hi Gautam,

    Hmm...yeah true. But something is better. We need to make do with what he have.

    The best filter coffee you can probably find near your place is The Komala Vilas, East El Camino Real, Sunnyvale :-)

    I thought that was closer home each time I sipped coffee there. They also serve in a traditional way, in tumbler and davara.

  32. It is a Good Combo to sip a filter coffee while reading this post. Multiplies the effect, taste woofer :)

    Nice Post!

  33. Hi Surya,

    Did ya just do that??? I am envious now!
    Hope you enjoyed this post as equally as your cuppa :-)

  34. wow Bindu...thanks so much for the pic..well i never drink any other cofee apart from the filter coffee...mmmmm the smeel and the mouth watering coffee in saravana bhavan is WOW!! analum neenga pala thekkama coffee drink paningala? he he! soooper...

  35. I still didnt taste the filter kaapi :-|

  36. aroma is strong,
    narration is so good
    just felt that i drank the filter kappi

  37. Congratulations Insignia. You have received the Beautiful Blogger Award. Plese check my new post.

  38. Hi Hary,

    Thank you for the comments. Its sad that we dont have Saravana Bhavan here.
    Palla thechuttu coffee kudikkarthukku patience...:-P

  39. Hi Quest,

    Awww...didn't you yet? Go grab one right away and savor it. you will never regret :-)

    thanks for the comments, keep visiting!

  40. Hi sm,

    Glad that you liked the post. That was what my intention was exactly, people must either long for filter kaapi or feel they have just drunk one cup :-)

  41. Hi SG,

    Wooowww...Thanks a ton. I am very honored and humbled. Thanks again

  42. Ah, the ever delightful coffee! Only it's tea for me thrice a day:)
    Have you tried the most expensive coffee? The one where they feed coffee beans to a particular apecies of cat, and use the feces extract:)

  43. Hi Kish,

    I have heard about it, haven't got a chance to sniff it though!1 I am not sure if I would take a chance drinking it :-D

  44. Wow it seems a post from the brewmaster.. Didnt knw such effort is put in to make a cup of coffee. No wonder it must have tasted heavenly.. That was an enlightening post ön the art of coffee making

  45. Hi Rajlakshmi,

    Welcome to B Log :-)

    Nah...I am no close to a brewmaster's assistant even :-) All these, just observations of the everyday ritual.

    Thank you for your comments and keep hopping by!

  46. You shouln't have had coffee at such a young age,it's not good for a child's heart,you ought not have had it until 17 like I did,but I didn't get addicted to the high you get from it until later.


I'd love to know what you thought :-) Please shoot!