Indian filter coffee

From Academic Kids

Madras (Indian) Filter Coffee
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Frothy Madras Filter Coffee at 5AM
Coffee is typically served after pouring the coffee back and forth between the dabarah and the tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand. This cools the very hot coffee down and leaves a thick layer of froth on top.
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Metal South Indian coffee filter disassembled
The metal cup with the porous bottom slides into the lips of the regular bottomed cup. Fresh coffee grounds mixed with chicory is spread lightly into the porous upper cup and compressed gently with the stemmed sieve press. Boiling water is poured on top of the coffee grounds while leaving the compress press in place. Brewed coffee drips into the receptacle at the bottom in a couple of hours, and is ready for consumption.
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Traditional Madras-style Dabarah (or) Davarah and tumbler placed with the open end facing down as is custom
The dabarah - "daBbarah" (also pronounced in some regions as 'davarah') is the wide metal saucer with lipped walls. The coffee is drunk from the tumbler (although a word of English origin, it seems to be the most commonly used name for this vessel), but the dabarah is used to gently spin the coffee around to cool it.

South Indian Coffee, also known as Madras Filter Coffee is a sweet milky coffee made from dark roasted coffee beans (70%-80%) and chicory (20%-30%), especially popular in the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The most commonly used coffee beans are Peaberry (preferred), Arabica, Malabar and Robusta grown in the hills of Kerala (Malabar), Karnataka (Chikmagalur) and Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris).

Outside India, a coffee drink prepared using a filter may be known as Filter Coffee or as Drip Coffee as the water passes through the grounds solely by gravity and not under pressure or in longer-term contact.



Coffee is something of a cultural icon in Tamil and Kannada cultures. It is a revered present-day tradition particularly among Tamil Brahmin households. It is customary to offer a cup of coffee to any visitor, although being offered coffee immediately upon arrival can also be construed as an indication to leave. Coffee was originally introduced by the British to South India and became very popular. Until the middle of the 20th century traditional households would not use granulated sugar but used jaggery instead in coffee.


The popular Indian lore says that on pilgrimage to Mecca in the 16th century, Snehal Shah, a revered Muslim holy man from India, discovered for himself the wonders of coffee. In his zeal to share what hed found with his fellows at home, he smuggled seven coffee beans out of the Yemeni port of Mocha, wrapped around his belly. On his return home, he settled himself on the slopes of the Chandragiri Hills in Kadur district, Mysore State (present day Karnataka). This hill range was later named after him as the Snehal Shah Hills and anyone can see his tomb even today if she will undertake a short trip from Chikmagalur. The origin of coffee, thus, is saintly. It was not an empire-builder or a buccaneer who brought coffee to India, but a saint, one who knew what was good for humanity.

Rev. Edward Terry, chaplain to Sir Thomas Roe who was ambassador at the court of Emperor Jehangir, provides a detailed account of its usage (1616):

"Many of the people there (in India), who are strict in their religion, drink no Wine at all; but they use a Liquor more wholesome than pleasant, they call Coffee; made by a black Seed boiled in water, which turns it almost into the same colour, but doth very little alter the taste of the water: notwithstanding it is very good to help digestion, to quicken the spirits, and to cleanse the blood."

The East India Company brought in fresh influences. David Burton, a food historian based in New Zealand writes in his book The Raj at Table (1993)

"India's first coffee house opened in Calcutta after the battle of Plassey in 1780. Soon after, John Jackson and Cottrell Barrett opened the original Madras Coffee House, which was followed in 1792 by the Exchange Coffee Tavern at the Muslim, waited at the mouth of the Madras Fort. The enterprising proprietor of the latter announced he was going to run his coffee house on the same lines as Lloyd's in London, by maintaining a register of the arrival and departure of ships, and offering Indian and European newspapers for his customers to read. Other houses also offered free use of billiard tables, recovering their costs with the high price of one rupee for a single dish of coffee."

So, just when and how did coffee, thus far an Arab / Muslim / European experience, percolate into the South Indian, and particularly, the Tamil Brahmin household? Literature and anecdotal evidence provide some clues, as evoked in this extract from the novel Devadasi by Kasturi Sreenivasan, under Chapter I - The Course of True Lovers (1977):

"Outside the temple, the petty vendors along the dusty street were doing a brisk trade by the light of smokey oil lamps..."
"Though Palayam was only a small town, one of its eating places started serving a new drink called coffee. It had been introduced by the British rulers and there were many stories about it. Some argued that, since it was of European origin, it must necessarily be unclean; others said it might be alcoholic. In any case, very few tried it, since a tumbler full cost as much as half an anna, while butter-milk was served free in many places and coconut water including the tender coconut meat was only a paisa. Only the most daring or the wealthy could afford the exotic brew. There was animated conversation about this and about various other things among the men who were slowly gathering in the temple courtyard. They talked about a new thing called a railway which had just been extended to the town from Madras recently.".

Indian filter coffee even migrated overseas in the early 20th century to Malaysia and Singapore, where kopi tarik (pulled coffee) is a close cousin of the Madrasi coffee-by-the-yard / metre, and was introduced at roadside kopi tiams run originally by Indian Muslims.


  • A term often heard for high-quality coffee is degree coffee. Milk certified as pure with a lactometer was called degree milk owing to a mistaken association with the thermometer. Coffee prepared with degree milk became known as degree coffee.
  • The name derives from the filter used for making the decoction.

External links

  1. ( - Very informative website of the Coffee Board of India, and home of the monthly magazine - "Indian Coffee"


See Also


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