A. Hari unwaveringly pours in a scalding, frothy brew into a sprightly yellow cup that reads ‘Assam special tea' on one side, but the aroma that emanates from it is an unmistakable giveaway. Hari causally remarks that he and his colleague at Hot Chips in Adyar make around 500 cups of piping hot filter coffee every day. “I have been making coffee here for five years, and it is the one item that has takers all day,” he says.

Irrespective of what time you drop into a south Indian home, they will most probably make you an offer you cannot refuse — a tumbler full of filter coffee which they've “just made”. In a city in whose veins coffee probably runs, everyone is a coffee connoisseur and J. Vengkataramani and his family take their daily cups of coffee very seriously. “To get the best decoction, the coffee powder should be gently packed in the top chamber of the coffee filter, and water should be sprinkled, not poured, in circular motions. This ensures that the filtration takes place uniformly. Irrespective of who makes the coffee at home, we always follow this process,” he said.

Dig into the utensils from your grandmothers' times, and you might stumble upon a relic from another era — a worn-out brass filter. “There is a reason brass filters and tumblers came to be used. Brass is a good conductor of heat and also lends a unique flavour to the coffee. So, the hotter the coffee, the better the flavour,” Vengkataramani adds.

S. Chakaravarthy, owner, Geetha Coffee, Mylapore says that the key to good coffee lies in identifying the right variety and blend of coffee beans. “We have been making coffee powder for the last 30 years and people like actor Nagesh have been our customers. Of all the southern states, the culture of drinking filter coffee is perhaps the strongest here. There are people who buy coffee powder from us and send it abroad. Once you get used to waking up to good filter coffee, it is difficult to switch to anything else,” he says, about what is probably the most sought-after accompaniment to the morning newspaper.

“I am 69 years old and I must have started drinking coffee at the age of five,” says A.K. Ganapathy, a regular customer at the Geetha Coffee. And like most regular coffee drinkers, he has “at least three cups” everyday. R. Subramanyam, a coffee enthusiast, says that there are towns in Tamil Nadu where people use hand grinders because they don't want to store and lose the flavour of the beans. “They grind fresh beans every time they want to make coffee,” he said.

When asked how Hari resists the temptation to guzzle down a few cups while he drowns in its aroma and prepares hundreds of cups of coffee each day, he confesses, “I only drink milk.”

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Asha SridharJune 28, 2012

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