If you love coffee then rise above the riffraff and savour South Indian filter coffee. Well, this was a near diktat I was handed out one wet May morning in Kerala by a house help! Valsala was happy to learn that though I belong to tea-filled Assam, my heart warms up to coffee, and she took it upon herself to show her coffee making skills. Every morning, every afternoon, every evening of that fortnight-long visit over a decade ago, I remember sniffing the aroma of Valsala's freshly ground coffee wafting through the house. Wearing an impish smile, she would hand me the steaming hot, frothy brew in a steel glass and saucer, and I simply loved it!
Stroking the string of jasmine flowers on her hair one day, she told me, “Now don't think of other coffees. Drink only filter coffee, buy a small filter here.” So I did and never regretted. And over the years, I learnt many a new thing about filter coffee. Skipping from brand to brand hunting for better taste (at times for more chicory, then for less chicory), I also looked for home-mixed versions (with no chicory).
Naturally then, when I heard that Chef Velu Murugan R of Dakshin ( at WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi) can fluff up a mean filter coffee, I couldn't hold myself. In fact, Chef Velu's expertise is in making metre coffee, so much better! Metre coffee, for the uninitiated, is the filter coffee that is poured from one mug to another from a metre-long distance to create a thousand bubbles before decanting it into your coffee mug. It is said to have started in the Brahmin households of Thanjavur, apparently “to serve coffee to the people of lower caste from a distance.” It then travelled to the cafes of Triplicane area of Madras, says Velu.
The ability to make metre coffee is an art. It needs a lot of practice. Velu says, “It took me over six months to master it. Every day, for those months, I practiced pouring it from a distance.” Hold the empty mug with your right hand and the one filled with hot coffee with your left. As you start pouring the brew on to the empty mug, you gradually lift your left hand, taking it up to about a metre high. As you lift the mug, your body gently bends towards the right hand. What you get is a lathered infusion. It is then poured into your coffee mug, using the same technique, gradually lifting the coffee filled serving mug. What you would get is a lot of foam, it gives the look of a chocolate ice-cream cone!
The taste of the milk is prominent in the coffee. “The quality and quantity of milk is important here. To 250 ml milk, you add 2 tbsp of coffee decoction to get the right consistency,” says Velu. He uses toned milk usually, “keeping in mind how people today are fussy about full cream milk.” On guest request, he has made metre coffee with soya milk too but says, “It doesn't taste good.” Ideally, he would like to use full cream milk to do the job.
“Metre coffee should have 28 to 30 degree of fat which you can get from toned milk. But if you want more fat, you should use full cream milk. That will be called degree coffee if you use a lactometer to gauge its high fat content.”
Velu uses a blend of three brands of South Indian coffee powder. A native of Kerala, he is, however, nostalgic about homemade coffee powder. “I remember mothers in my region making coffee powder by grinding roasted fennel seeds, coffee beans and whole wheat. It has no chicory, has health benefits and tastes super.” I could understand Velu for I have met Valsala.
(At Dakshin, metre coffee, called Kapi in the menu, costs Rs.200 before taxes.)
Keywords: filter coffee