International Coffee Day 2023: Coffee By Degree Or Meter?
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Filter kaapi is a symbol of solace in South India, especially in the households of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Brewing a cup of coffee may be simple, but a few techniques must be followed to make a good cup of filter coffee, or filter kaapi, as it is otherwise known popularly.

And preparing a Kumbakonam degree coffee or a cup of meter coffee with all its nuances is an art mastered through practise. A dose of freshly prepared filter coffee is important for most South Indians to get their mornings going. So, it is equally important to get it right too!

What Is A Filter Kaapi Without A Filter?

The filter is the most important piece of equipment one needs to make filter coffee, which is mostly made from brass or silver. It is a skillfully created three-piece device that brews a strong coffee decoction for your frothy cup of filter coffee. The filter is cylindrical and contains an upper chamber with a lid, a plunger, and a lower chamber.

You add the coffee grounds to the upper part, which is porous with tiny holes through which the brewed coffee decoction drips and gets collected in the lower part. The plunger placed in the upper part helps level the grounds and facilitates even percolation of the decoction.

What you need to remember here is that it takes bubbling water at 91 degrees Celsius to brew a good decoction and not boiling water at 100 degrees, as that might only kill the flavour and aroma of the coffee grounds if the water is too hot.

Filter coffee relies on high-quality coffee powder, typically Arabica or peaberry beans, with about 10–15 percent chicory. Boiled and frothy milk is combined with the decoction derived from the filter and a little sugar, creating a unique taste. The traditional set for serving includes a metal davara and tumbler, offering an authentic South Indian coffee experience.

Kumbakonam Degree Filter Kaapi

If you have travelled along Tamil Nadu, you might have come across many coffee shops on the highway that popularly offer a type of filter kaapi called degree coffee. While you might be familiar with filter kaapi, which is made from coffee decoction, milk, and sugar, degree kaapi might make you wonder what it is all about.

Well, this kaapi trend traces its roots to the small town of Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, which is known for its brassware. A fresh cup of degree-filtered kaapi is heavily aromatic, thick, and frothy in texture. The decoction derived from the roasted coffee grounds includes a blend of Arabica and peaberry coffee beans, along with some chicory. Only the first extract of decoction is used with full-fat milk with very little sugar to make the Kumbakonam Degree Coffee, which is served in a brass davara tumbler.

There are various stories surrounding the origin of the term "degree coffee." While some believe it's linked to the temperature at which the milk is boiled or the water's boiling degree, many claim that there are three degrees to filter coffee, which refers to the first, second, and third extracts of a decoction made by reusing the coffee grounds.

Despite all these theories, it is strongly believed that the 109-year-old Sri Mangalambika Vilas Coffee Hotel in Kumbakonam is where the concept of degree coffee started in the 1940s. The owners claim that back then, milk was tested daily with a lactometer before receiving it from the local milkman for its purity and to be sure that it was not watered down. Only when it was confirmed that the milk quality was of the highest degree would they purchase it, and the coffee prepared from that milk came to be called degree coffee or Kumbakonam Degree Kaapi.

Chef Venkatesh Bhat explains on his YouTube channel that buffalo milk is the best option to prepare degree kaapi because of its high fat quotient, which provides the thickness and texture required for the froth to stay in tact for 15 minutes and the taste of coffee to linger for longer on your palate.

One-Meter-Long Kaapi Please!

When a cup of filter kaapi is poured long between two tumblers and pulled by repeatedly pouring the kaapi back and forth between the tumblers from a height distance of a meter or two, it becomes frothy and is called the meter kaapi. The pouring and pulling of coffee is meant to cool down hot coffee and induce flavoured froth into the cup.

This method blends the decoction with the milk and sugar thoroughly to give you a well-balanced cup of coffee with a rounded taste. The technique of pulling coffee can only be perfected through practice, and even then, it might not be a technique that everyone can pull off effortlessly.

A cup of coffee brewed with love can only taste divine. And after a masala dosa or idli-sambar, there is no other beverage that pairs as beautifully as a cup of metre filter coffee, where the roasted coffee grounds include top-quality Arabica with a little chicory or Robusta coffee beans.

Most restaurants in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka serve meter coffee in the eateries and local coffee shops. Pulling coffee is a traditional way of cooling the beverage similar to tea in Indonesia or Malaysia, which is called teh-tarik. They also serve pulled milk coffee called kopi-tarik at the local coffee shops, which is similar to meter kaapi.

Some meter kaapi use coffee grounds with different ratios and blends to add variation to the taste and texture of decoctions with or without chicory, while others are particular about using A2 cow's milk or jaggery instead of sugar in their kaapi. Whatever the variation, when the hot filter kaapi is poured from a height of a meter or two and pulled laboriously to make a meter kaapi, it is surely a cup that will get you hooked on filter kaapi even if you are not much of a coffee drinker.

In South India, filter kaapi holds a special place, representing comfort and tradition. This unique coffee brew requires precise techniques, starting with the essential cylindrical filter. The coffee powder is the heart of the filter kaapi, and the milk is the body that blends and transports the true flavours of this beverage.

For most South Indians, there is nothing that matches or can beat the emotion induced by a filter kaapi. No matter how many varieties of coffee they may try, like cappuccino, frappe, iced coffee, cold brews, etc., they might always want to end their day on a filter kaapi note.