With the monsoon just around the corner, a steaming hot tumbler of filter coffee is just what you'll need. Sunday Mid day appoints in-house authority Janaki Viswanathan to tell you how you can brew an authentic cup, Tamilian style, and where to find the paraphernalia for it. Plus the story of a 71 year-old coffee house that's survived the 'instant' assault and a box office debacle
Find me a South Indian who has a clear memory of his first cup of filter coffee. Several of them (including yours truly) are initiated into it by helpful grandparents, when they are still on their knees. Heavy with caffeine and tinged with sugar, the word 'instant' is an abuse for the filter kaapi purist.
If you walked past Mysore Concerns at King's Circle in Matunga, any time of the day, you'd know why. It's not tough to taste the bitterness without really tasting anything, as you take in the whiff of coffee beans being freshly ground.
The coffee story
The 71 year-old shop displays a proud 'Coimbatore White Butter' board indoors; it's the only other product that the Venkatrams sell here other than their trademark filter coffee powder. "My father used to sell provisions along with coffee, condiments mainly, and some agarbattis, but we stopped that after his demise in 1975," says Srikant Venkatram.
A whiff of glamour
Ten minutes into a conversation, and you know Venkatram is a focused proprietor happy with his caffeine business, unlike his late father who flirted with films. When he wasn't roasting and grinding beans at home, GD Venkatram nursed cinematic dreams. That was back in the 1950s. "My father wanted to produce a Kannada film," Venkatram recalls fondly. Asha Nirasha did get made in 1954, starring famous actress Vyjayanthimala, with Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar as playback singers. "It failed miserably," admits Venkatram with a shrug.
Owner Srikant Venkatram
The box office debacle meant two other Mysore Concerns ventures: a printing press (opposite the coffee shop) and a tailor service (next door), had to shut down.
The coffee shop has flourished however. Apart from South Indian families around Matunga, loyalists from as far as Panvel and Thane drop by for their filter coffee powder packs.
From plantation to cup
Mysore Concerns' coffee comes from an auction held every Thursday at the Coffee Board of India in Bengaluru.
Venkatram makes a trip every month to procure raw beans of the peaberry and plantation varieties. The beans arrive in Mumbai, and are taken straight to his roasting plants located at Bhendi Bazaar and Mahim.
Once roasted, the beans arrive at the store where they are ground. Venkatram also supplies coffee powder by the kilo to restaurants, and coffee houses from Andheri to Mira Road, Thane and Panvel. Arya Bhavan, Cafe Mysore and Shri Sundar in Matunga are all his clients. Udipi favourite Shiv Sagar in Vile Parle is also a patron. Raj Shekhar, a famous name among South Indian wedding caterers, takes no less than 34 kg a day.
The coffee beans at Mysore Concerns arrive every week from an auction in Bengaluru and are ground at the store. They also sell Coimbatore white butter. PICS/ Dutta Kumbhar
GD Venkatram (extreme left) at the mahurat shot of Kannada film Asha Nirasha. Actress Vyjayanthimala is on the extreme right
Better than Starbucks
"It's the elderly who still remain faithful to their steaming hot tumbler every morning. Youngsters prefer instant or no coffee at all," says Venkatram, enunciating 'instant' with distaste.
As we chat, regular customer Sujatha Warrier walks in. Warrier, who just moved back to a filter coffee routine, says nothing beats the south blend. "My husband was told Starbucks is the best coffee in the world, so when he went to the States, he visited an outlet and tried a cup. He called me to say our coffee is still the best," she laughs.
So, how does Venkatram like his coffee? "I don't drink coffee, I never have," he smiles. It's something his father taught him. "He used to say, 'if you want to flourish in a business, you must never take from it yourself.'"
Know your coffee beans
Harish Bijoor, coffee consultant and former member of the Coffee Board of India, Bengaluru, gives you a crash course on coffee bean varieties
A mild variety of coffee, which is rare, and grown on higher altitudes.
A strong variety of coffee, grown at a lower altitude.
The sub-groups under both Arabica and Robusta, are Peaberry and Plantation coffees.
Peaberry: Is a monocotyledon, which is actually an aberration to the usual dicotyledonous bean. It roasts well and evenly, and adds aroma to the final blend.
Plantation coffee: Is regular coffee, graded by size into four categories: A,B,C and D. It adds aroma to the coffee too, although not as strong as the Peaberry.
The perfect coffee blend would have about 70 per cent Arabica (10 per cent Peaberry, 60 per cent Plantation) and 30 per cent Robusta (10 per cent Peaberry and 20 per cent Plantation).
Make authentic kaapi at home
You'll need: A steel coffee filter, filter coffee powder, freshly boiled milk, sugar
1. Wash the filter thoroughly with hot water, and dry it before brewing coffee.
2. Add two or more teaspoons of the coffee powder into the perforated cylinder. Place the perforated plunger on it to level the powder.
3. Boil enough water to fill the cylinder.
4. Pour the boiling water into the cylinder.
5. Shut it firmly with the lid.
6. The decoction will begin to drip into the tumbler in about 15 minutes.
7. Pour out the decoction, mix in freshly boiled milk, depending on how dark or light you like your coffee.
8. Add just enough sugar, a little short of one spoon for a cup. Too much sugar eats into the coffee's natural flavours.
9. Don't reuse the same coffee powder to make another round.
Know your coffee filter
Just the right coffee powder won't do. You need the perfect filter too. Murugan Steel House opposite Sion Bus Depot sells seven sizes of coffee filters, starting from size zero (and you thought that only had to do with Kareena), ending with size six. Size zero makes enough decoction for two people, while size six can drip enough for 12 cups.
Prices range from
Rs 130 to Rs 325.
The bottom tumbler into which the dark blend drips
The perforated cylinder where the coffee powder goes in
The perforated plunger which is what helps your decoction come through
Too lazy to make a cup?
Six best filter coffee cups in Mumbai
>>Mani's Lunch Home: Next to Ruia College, Dadar. Call: 24127188
>>Sharda Bhavan: Opposite Matunga (Central) railway station. Call: 24141271
>>Amba Bhavan: Bhandarkar Road, Patel Mahal, Matunga (E). Call: 9869441901
>>Cafe Mysore: Bhau Daji Road, opposite King's Circle Garden. Call: 24021230
>>Shanmukhananda Hall: Behind Gandhi Market, Sion. Call: 24078888
>>Iyer's Kitchen: Yari Road, next to Rice Boat, Versova, Andheri. Call: 9833025645
>>India produced 283,000 tonnes of coffee in 2009
>>73.6 per cent of our coffee beans come from the south, mostly from Karnataka
>>72,000 tonnes were sold domestically
>>211,000 tonnes were exported to 27 other countries