Disappearing trade Columns

Is that filter kaapi in your tumbler, or coffee?

At one point, Sundaram Coffee had 10 stores in the city, but at least eight of them have been closed or sold off now. Photo: R. Ravindran

At one point, Sundaram Coffee had 10 stores in the city, but at least eight of them have been closed or sold off now. Photo: R. Ravindran   | Photo Credit: R RAVINDRAN

The advent of instant coffee and Western cafés may have spelt decline for shops selling ground coffee powder.

In this day and age of instant coffee and Western-style cafes, it is likely only a percentage of people in Chennai still begin their day with real filter kaapi.

For those few, the aroma that wafts out of the filter, early in the morning, is also an alarm of sorts. They are so addicted they would rather forsake their food but not this drink. Coffee, not made any which way, but fresh from a filter.

The production of coffee powder became a big business opportunity in the city in the 1950s, and grinding coffee beans moved out of kitchens and into shops that began to advertise their ‘freshly-ground coffee powder’.

However, with the advent of multinational coffee chains in the city in the late 90s, and youngsters ditching home-brewed kaapi in favour of cappuccinos and lattes, household names like Leo, Pandian, Narasu’s and Kumbakonam Filter Coffee are fighting to keep existing customers. 

The filter coffee business started out as coffee-grinding shops during the period when coffee seeds were on the ration list, with India Coffee House engaged in selling coffee seeds in the city.

Once coffee seeds were removed from the ration list, these companies began to convert their grinding units to coffee-production ones.

The coffee shops had such reputation in every locality that a person who visited the store once became a lifelong customer.

Family-owned businesses such as Sundaram Coffee House in Mylapore and Saravana Coffee in Velachery had huge customer following and thriving businesses.

Sundaram Coffee on South Mada Street, Mylapore, continues to retain its die-hard customers but competition is tough, they say. Srinivasan, who works in the shop, says, at one point, it had 10 stores, but at least eight of them have been closed or sold off now.

“Lack of manpower to manage the business and competition from instant coffee led to the closure of the shops,” he says.

For people in a hurry, there are a lot more options today: ‘pure filter coffee’ in sachets and in pet bottles as well, all ready to be mixed with milk and consumed.

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 12:45:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/disappearing-trade-is-that-filter-kaapi-in-your-tumbler-or-coffee/article6374146.ece

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