How to Brew the Best South Indian Filter Coffee

August 14, 2006

RK Narayan’s jottings about his travels in America when he was in the process of writing his tour-de-force “The Guide” appears in full as “My dateless diary”. As he journeys across the vast continent, he is able to see American way of life at close quarters but he finds himself incapable of adopting their mannerisms or their free-from-shackles way of living. One incident stands out from his very first days in New York. At a self-service cafeteria he goes to take his breakfast and when he approached the coffee counter and was asked, “black or white?” “Neither”, replied Narayan. “What do you mean?. To this Narayan said, “I want it neither, black nor white, but brown, which ought to be the colour of honest coffee, that’s how we make it in South India where devotees of perfection in coffee assemble from all over the world.”

Coffee is a major social institution in my part of the world. It can be described as being an icon of Kannada culture and is a revered tradition in most households. It is customary that a cup of coffee is offered to any visitor when visiting a household in South India (In North India, Tea is preferred.) One sip of this delicious drink will make you understand why Indian filter coffee is such a revered beverage down South.

Serving the filter coffee is one of the most interesting parts of preparing the coffee. The coffee is poured back and forth between the ‘Battilu’ and the ‘Lota’ in a huge arc-like motions of the hand. A ‘Battilu’ is a wide metal saucer with lipped walls that is used to gently spin the coffee around to cool it. The ‘Lota’ is a tumbler used to hold the coffee and the coffee is drunk from the Lota. By pouring the coffee between the Battilu and the Lota, you will cool the hot coffee down to a suitable temperature while leaving a thick layer of froth on top to enjoy.

Recently, me and my wife met a friend at a Cafe Coffee Day outlet attached to a Petrol pump in Malleswaram. Since it was an odd hour, we couldn’t  go to CTR. The menu card had Hot Chocolate, Espresso with cream, Tropical Iceberg, Almond Frappes and what not. I felt there ought to be a place for the traditional ‘Hot filter Coffee’ amongst these.

I remember drinking mesmerising coffee made by my Ajji and Amma. Ajji specially made coriander coffee-roasted, ground and boiled so perfectly-a childhood habit that might have to do with the fact that they were never well-to-do. It seems the ‘Kothambari’ coffee was MS Subbulakshmi‘s favourite as well.

I love coffee any time of the day (If I have a newspaper to go with it, it’s heaven). And by coffee, I mean filter coffee. I know a lot of people who are coffee addicts. An uncle of mine drinks a lot of Coffee. He says, “If you don’t drink coffee at least thrice a day, it’s sacrilege!” I always tell him that when the doctor wants to test his blood, all that he will be able to extract is Coffee decoction.

I have a subtle contempt for instant coffee. I consider, like most purists, that the making of filter coffee is almost a ritual, for the coffee beans have to be roasted and ground. Then the powder is put into a filter set and boiling hot water is added to prepare the decoction and allowed to set for about 15 minutes. The decoction is then added to milk with sugar to taste. The final drink is poured individually from one container to another in rapid succession to make the ideal frothy cup of filter coffee.

And you get steaming, hot filter coffee with an exhilarating aroma, creamy-golden-brown froth, fulsome flavour and lingering after-taste. Nothing like it to refresh and stimulate. And so easy to achieve if you brew it right.

To prepare filter coffee, you need some freshly roasted and ground coffee. Rinse coffee-making device and other utensils thoroughly in hot water before use, and dry. Fill coffee-making device to capacity- never less than three-fourths of the device. Add freshly boiled water to coffee- not vice versa, this spoils the taste. Use one part milk to three parts of coffee. Never use over-boiled milk- this ruins the flavour.

Add milk and sugar separately. And maintain uniform timing for every brew. Serve immediately after brewing. If not, keep at serving temperature by placing the coffee pot/device in a pan containing hot water or on a lightly heated asbestos pad.

Coffee is at its best when prepared in a tinned brass filter. Stainless steel is also good. The ratio of coffee powder to water is 1:15. Add three teaspoons of freshly roasted and ground coffee for every cup. Fix upper part of filter to lower part. Remove plunger from vessel. Add 10 g coffee powder and spread it uniformly. Immerse plunger pressing down on powder lightly. Pour 150 ml of freshly boiled water over plunger. Keep for five to seven minutes. Pour out coffee from lower part of filter into cups. Serve with 50 ml of milk and 6 to 7 g of sugar to taste.

Of course, it is finally up to the coffee lover to decide what’s best to ravish this celestial drink. And only you can decide the colour of honest coffee!

34 Responses to “How to Brew the Best South Indian Filter Coffee”

  1. travel plaza Says:

    Ah! Another filter coffee addict….its only natural that I should be the first to comment about this post:))I love filter coffee. My husband makes the best filter coffee…a lot of people who have visited us have food prepared by me, but always ask for coffee prepared by hubby. I agree that its a ritual. While I was growing up..I would wake up to the aroma of fresh filtered coffee every morning. Ahh..thanks rk for reminding me of my ajji’s and amma’s filter coffee:))

  2. rk Says:

    tp: really feels nice that a filter coffee addict has commented first. and how come most hubbies have perfected this art of making filter kaapi? intriguing! of course, it has that subtle difference from the coffee made by your ajji or amma….yet, a coffee is a coffee is a coffee.

  3. travel plaza Says:

    RK, I read your posts about your amma and about MS just now. I have to say, both posts brought tears to my eyes. First, the post about your mother was very touching. It seems sometimes a higher spiritual power is guiding us, why else would that person have said that you need to be with your mother?
    About MS, again like a lot of people who commented, I felt like I was there listening and talking to her as I read your post.
    Though I do not sing classical music, I have grown up listening to MS’s Venkateswara suprabhatam and bhaja govindam. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

  4. Vani Says:

    Super, Bellur.

    Kaapi bagge bahala sogasaada post bardiddira. Coffee is the best stimulant according to me. Mornings are never the same without coffee, I have atleast 3 Coffees a day. Some scientific research also suggests that coffee in moderation is helpful in preventing some ailments too.

    Good post.

  5. rk Says:

    tp: thanks a lot for reading those posts. i agree that there is some power guiding all of us. and i respect and bow to that power with humility.

    vani: glad you liked the post. dedicate this post to all the filter coffee lovers in the world!

  6. Shruthi Says:

    Ahaaa I can almost smell the coffee 🙂 Though I am not an addict, a cup of filter coffee after idli/dose/uppittu is a must!! 🙂

  7. Vijay Says:

    Coffee Day coffee cannot stand up to the traditional offerings of a CTR, VB… or even a norman “darshini” place.. the only thing about Coffee Day is the ambience…

    Check out this hilarious piece by comedian Jackie Mason on Starbucks…. (holds true for Coffee Day as well)

  8. Kishor Says:

    RK: Please continue to drink lots and lots of filter coffee daily and motivate others to do the same. It helps growers like us:)

  9. rk Says:

    shruthi: coffee after dose, uppitt irli, i can have one even after lunch, ice cream, noodles…..for that matter after ANYTHING & EVERYTHING! 😉

    vijay: khandita nija sir. coffee day bari DOVV hodyorge sari. thanks for the link….hilarious article.

    kishor: haha…good one. actually, filter coffee tastes awesome when you have it at a planter’s place. i have had quite a few in sringeri, chikmagalur and other coffee estates. the feeling cannot be described. one got to experience it.

  10. Sanjay M Says:

    RK, I positively remember Coffee Day having filter coffee in its menu, though my mom dosen’t like it at all.

    You should read the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (online at and esp the way he asks the supercomputer to make tea… 🙂

  11. Veena Shivanna Says:

    ‘AaDu muTTada soppilla, Bellur bareyada topic illa’ anthaaytu. Coffee mele entha oLLE article sir. The way you have related the word coffee to various internation fames is the best thing., anthu namgella CTR nalle coffee koTTu mugisidri, nimma kyna coffee yaavaga sir ? Coffee maker, vending machines coffee mele eraDu line baribahudittalla ? comments odida mele nange naanu ondu comment maadbeku annistu. so here is my take on your article.

    Coffee is not good for health anthaaralla, adralli caffaine iratte etc., etc, Adara badlu Tea kuDiri, comparitively less bad anthaare, how true is this ?

    Coffee antha heLid takshna, I remember Brazil. namma geography paaTa nenpige baratte. I very rarely drink coffee, saamanya hotel nalli dose tiMdre, I check If I can have some coffee, very rarely at home I drink when prepared for guests or when its raining & my husband asks for it. DevraaNe, Coffee day coffee, Star bucks coffee, barisTa coffee ivella kuDiyolla naalu, moreover ivella nOdlikke ashTe nore nore(Jebige yETu kooDa) , kuDiyokke hodre devrige preeti.

    kaDeya maatu :- Couple of years back, I was writing a pyschological test(email forward:-)) where I was asked to write five analogies/synonyms about Dog, Cat, Rat, Coffee, Ocean. Not exactly synonyms, its about what do I think about these workds ? what do I feel when I read those words.

    Then the explantion was given like below. what ever we write about dog is about ourself, Cat intends to explain about our partner, Rat is our enemy, Ocean is what we think about life. & the coffee was compared to sex. Generally people would give answers like ‘Would love to have it in the morning’, ‘Addiction’, ‘Would like to have anytime’ etc., When you read the answers for the pyschological test then you raise your brow when you see the analogies given for “coffee”. Just think about somebody like me who wrote a line like ‘Nothing official about it’ & I wrote that about 5-6 years back & this was when I was still single 🙂 🙂 Uff…

  12. shark Says:

    Nice blog…:)

    Ah coffee!! That’s like…like what… it IS amrutha 😉

  13. rk Says:

    Sanjay: Maybe I missed it…..

    Veena: I always use that gaadhe when I talk of DR.RAJKUMAR. “Aadu muttada soppilla, Raj abhinayisada paathravilla”.

    You have said that “Coffee is not good for health…”. I would like to say when you take it in a limited quantity, it is good. Coffee contains tannin and antioxidants, which are good for the heart and arteries. It can relieve headaches. It is good for the liver – and can help prevent cirrhosis and gallstones. And the caffeine in coffee can reduce the risk of asthma attacks – and help improve circulation within the heart. But yes, there is no denying that coffee is not for everyone.

    Yes, I have read about this Dog, Cat, Rat, Coffee, Ocean. Olle majaa!

    Shark: Glad you liked the blog and this Coffee post! You have a nice blog out there! Good luck and Keep visiting. 🙂

  14. rk Says:

    sanjay: super link, thanks. the link that had 53,428 words was very humorous and very creatively written! 🙂

  15. Gangadhar Says:

    mmmmm…i love coffee!!

  16. Sanjay M Says:

    RK, that was a complete online world famous highly acclaimed science fiction book book – a 5 chapter trilogy. You shouldve started from book1. Anyway read them when you get time. Read them again after a year or so, and you will see a difference in perception. The author though a writer, was very deeply learned in physics as testified by a physicist Richard Dawkins (,3604,490295,00.html)

  17. Sanjay M Says:

    I think Coffee Day calls it Madras Filter Coffee or something liek that. You haven’t missed much, if anyone really wanted filter coffee they wouldn’t go to coffee day! 😉

  18. rk Says:

    Gangadhar: I can imagine a T-shirt with that line! 😉

    Sanjay: Is that so? Will read it then.

    Read them again after a year or so, and you will see a difference in perception.

    Hope to do that too.
    But Sanju, I remember going to a Coffee day outlet next to the Food World in Malleswaram and asking him for a filter coffee. That guy said, “Sorry sir, we don’t have filter coffee”.
    And I paid a hefty amount to just drink the froth. Just wondering does different outlets have different menus? 😮

  19. Gangadhar Says:

    t-shirt quote? wah…so creative!!
    Sure ‘ll try on

  20. rk Says:

    By the way, my size is XL, Ganga. 😉

  21. […] After we finish the Dose, a waiter hands us a tissue, which earlier would have been a piece of ‘Praja Vani’ to serve as the paper napkin. We wash the Sagu-Masale down with hot filter coffee. There is already a person waiting next to us, virtually booking his seat. We leave the place with a sense of tranquility and contentment. […]

  22. […] Caramello and more. Wow! Sounds good, and cool too. But what if I want my usual filter coffee, or South Indian or Madras coffee as many call it, and I want it with the cafe experience? Yes, the experience -nice […]

  23. […] (Pradhan Sweets on 15th cross Malleswaram), sometimes he used to treat me with an occasional Coffee and Bajji-Bonda. I loved to see him paint nameplates and banners. Perhaps it was here that I also […]

  24. Lakshmi Says:

    Wah Sahebre, nimma kaapi gyana adbhutha. idu nimma sitege first visitu, adre idanna nanna blognalli bookmark madthini iga.

  25. rk Says:

    welcome to RwB.
    thanks for bookmarking.
    nimma mouth-watering blogu bahala adhbhuthavaagide.
    keep sharing those delicious recipes (with superb pics to go with it)
    take care

  26. studyabroadchronicle Says:

    A blast from the past (one of your older articles). Glad I found it. It’s informative. I’ve tried making filter coffee and I will try your tips to make it better. I have not had the ‘coriander’ roast as you noted, but I do love the chicory roast.

  27. […] How to Brew the Best South Indian Filter Coffee […]

  28. lemonytree Says:

    gr8…taste of coffee!!!

  29. science fiction books is the thing that i always read because it stirs my imagination ‘

  30. Varsha Says:

    Hah…I have that subtle contempt for instant coffee too…Filter coffee is real coffee…. Although I am more of a tea lover, I do have my occasional filter coffee binges

    Whats coriander coffee?

  31. […] Have tried coffee from Chennai to Calcutta, Cambodia to Britain but nothing quite like my own home brewed filter-coffee. When ever I am away from home, I fondly remember drinking mesmerizing coffee made by my Granny and Mother. They make an awesome filter brewed coffee. Coffee is a major social institution in my part of the world. Coffee is a major social institution in my part of the world. It can be described as being an icon of Kannada culture and is a revered tradition in most households. It is customary that a cup of coffee is offered to any visitor when visiting a household in South India (In North India, Tea is preferred.) One sip of this delicious drink will make you understand why Indian filter coffee is such a revered beverage down South. | ref […]

  32. […] How to Brew the Best South Indian Filter Coffee Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  33. shivakumar Says:

    Can anyone help me with Coriander Filter coffee recipe?

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