Parshathy J. Nath follows her nose to an outlet in R.S. Puram where fragrant coffee welcomes her

There is coffee brewing at the Kumbakonam Filter Coffee shop, and the wafting smell leads us opposite to Rathna Vinayagar Temple, at R.S. Puram, where it is located. It is two in the afternoon and the shop mills with coffee lovers. Shanti, the owner has just put the vessel of hot, chocolate-coloured decoction on the stove for heating. She welcomes you with a smiling enquiry, “Strong, light or medium?”

I want it strong and I get it that way. The frothy steaming coffee served in gold coloured davara tumblers has a delicious bitter flavour that lingers in your mouth. The sugar is just right. “If it is too sweet you will not be able to taste the flavour of the coffee”, says Ganesh, Shanti’s husband. The decoction and milk are never heated directly, says Shanti. “Instead they are heated in a double boiler where the milk or decoction vessel is kept in another vessel full of water and then heated. This way you get the real essence.”

Hooked to coffee

She and her husband run this outlet, which is a part of Kumbakonam Filter Coffee chain outlets in Tamil Nadu. “We are open from five in the morning. But busiest hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the day and from 3 p.m to 5 p.m., in the evening.” Shanti says they were trained to brew the authentic Kumbakonam coffee, by the company. “The company procures coffee powder from Coorg and distributes it to regional outlets.”

There are more goodies as there are spicy snacks to accompany the hot brew. From the crispy murukkus of Manapparai to the melt-in-the-mouth halwa of Tirunelveli, the Kumbakonam coffee outlets serve signature snacks from different regions of Tamil Nadu.

At one corner of the shop, bajji bondai man Vasu hands out sizzling mixed vegetable and vazhakka bajjis, keera vadais and paruppu vadais. They look pretty with the topping of mint chutney and grated coconut.

Today’s specialty is ragi vadaai, made of ragi, pottu kadalai, vengayam and karivepppilai. Shanti says that after they started the outlet, many wanted bajjis and bondais also. “This is exclusive to our shop.” A. Prasad, a jewellery salesman, has come to the shop especially for the raagi vadais. “They did not make it the last two days. I have been sending people to find out whether this was available. It is my favourite snack here.” Even as he speaks a sales boy from a neighbouring jewellery store runs in and orders six davaras of coffee. “We always serve our customers with this coffee. It is a huge hit among them,” he says.

C. Palaniswamy, owner of a rice shop, also visits regularly. “Where else do you get this quality coffee at Rs.15?,” he asks. V. Srikanth comes to R.S. Puram all the way from Kavundampalayam. While his daughter studies at a tuition centre nearby, he waits for her at this shop.

It begins to rain and the number of visitors to the shop swells. Shanti and Ganesh speed up their coffee making. It smells divine. There is a particular measure to the proportion of water and coffee powder, while making the decoction, says Shanti. “Now, I cannot tell you that. Therein lies the magic of the Kumbakonam coffee", she says with a wink.