Degree Coffee...a forward sent to me by a friend, K R Narasimhan, 220813

August 23, 2013

As I got it, spelling mistakes and all.


Dear friends

Today while taking the morning coffee my thinking went about the Kumbakonam degree coffee and about the degree associated. “Degree coffee” is the certificate awarded to high standard of Kumbakonam filer coffee.

Just because a coffee is prepared with Kumbakonam coffee powder, it need not be the degree coffee. It has to be brewed in the special manner, the method first started in Kumbakonam. We get Kumbakonam degree coffee in a shop at Usman Road, T Nagar. We have to ask for it.

I had read elsewhere recently that the addition “degree” to the Kumbakonam coffee was not only with the type of coffee seeds and method of preparation, but also or more based on the DEGREE OF MILK.

I surfed for the details of Kumbakonam degree coffee. Today I thought I will write about coffee.

  1. Offering coffee

Coffee is something of a cultural icon in Kerala, Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu today among all religions. It is customary to offer a cup of coffee to any visitor.

  1. Coffee brief history

Coffee was originally introduced by Baba Budan to South India in 17th century and became very popular under the British Rule.

Until the middle of the 20th century traditional households would not use granulated sugar but used jaggery or honey, instead in coffee.

  1. Karupetti coffee and chakkara coffee During my boyhood days we used to get what is called KARUPETTI to the size of half the coconut and prepared in coconut shell using PANAVELLAM. Chakkara coffee was the one using jagerry from sugarcane. My father used to make a provision for karupetti- 4 numbers in the provision list on those days. One by one karupetti will be broken to bigger pieces and kept in tin for daily use near Kitchen Almirah

Now also in Chennai we get panam karupetti but very smaller but oval in shape probably using bottom alone of the coconut shell. This is sold mostly by street vendors near railway station like Tambaram, Mambalam etc. It is sold in shops selling pooja items also. There one can get it all the time.

Chukku coffee adding dry ginger, kurumulaku coffee adding pepper powder is still common. These coffee use coffee powder, hot water and either dried ginger or powdered pepper. While we are having cough, kurumulaku coffee is felt very effective (even better than cough syrups some times- The opinion could differ between persons)

  1. Coffee powder.

On my boyhood days we used to get local coffee powder in tins and brook bond in packets. The addition of chicory or anything about chicory was never thought.

The sales man will pack ¼ kg or ½ kg in news paper from big tins and in reaching home it was put in our small tin.

  1. Coffee preparation

After well boiling about a litre of water in a copper pot, coffee powder was added about three or four spoons. It was closed with a lid for about five minutes.

Coffee water will be there at top, the sediments will remain at bottom. The water at top was taken to other vessels with out stirring. The sediments were some times used again pouring boiled water for 2nd coffee. It had lesser taste comparing to first one.

Even now this method is followed in tea shops. In the sabarimala route chukku coffee is served in this method getting coffee water.

In due course instead of karupetti we started using sugar. Probably Karupetti would have come to the same price of sugar or its non availability.

Filter coffee was something not much known in our houses in central Kerala and coffee powder was something readily available in provision shops till early 1955’s.

  1. Coffee powder shops.

By 1955’s coffee powder shops started to appear in towns. Here grinding machine was there, different type of coffee powders and still nothing like FILTER TYPE GRINDING. The shop people will fry different types of seeds to certain kilos, grind and keep ready in tins. It will be packed in front of us by weighing.

  1. Special grinding

Appearance of filter and special grinding started by 1960’s. The shop people started asking whether for filter use. A coarse type grinding was started for filter. Mostly it was Brahmins started using filter coffee.

Having a coffee filter and consuming filter coffee was considered an ELEVATED STATUS even among Brahmins.

  1. Poti kappiyo filtero( Whether normal coffee or filter coffee?)

The Brahmin hotels started asking about the coffee type to the customers. Filter consumed time, more powder of quality. Hence charging was some 50% more than powder coffee.

9 . More on Kumbakonam coffee

Kumbakonam Degree Coffee is a coffee beverage associated with the town of Kumbakonam, India. Its specialty is the usage of PURE COW’S MILK WITHOUT ANY ADULTERANTS AND CHICORY.

South Indian Kumbakonam Filter Coffee, also known as 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 Tamil Nadu, Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh.

The most commonly used coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta grown in the hills of Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris District, Yercaud and Kodaikanal), Karnataka (Kodagu, Chikkamagaluru and Hassan), and Kerala (Malabar region).

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

The upper cup of the filter is loaded with fresh ground coffee mixed with chicory (~2 tablespoons of mixture per serving). The grounds are gently compressed with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup’s pierced bottom. With the press disc left in place, the upper cup is nested into the top of the tumbler and boiling water is poured inside. The lid is placed on top, and the device is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory sort of holds on to the hot water a little longer, lets the water extract more flavour from the coffee powder. The brew is generally stronger than western “drip style” coffee.

The resulting brew is very potent, and is traditionally consumed by adding 1–2 tablespoons to a cup of boiling milk with the preferred amount of sugar.

The coffee is served in tumbler with a dabarah - Coffee is typically served after pouring back and forth between the dabarah and the tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand.

This serves several purposes: mixing the ingredients (including sugar) thoroughly; cooling the hot coffee down to a sipping temperature; and most importantly, aerating the mix without introducing extra water An anecdote related to the distance between the pouring and receiving cup leads to the coffee’s another name “METER COFFEE”.

  1. Degree coffee

A term often heard for high-quality coffee is Filter 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.

Another explanation for Filter coffee is that chicory beans were used to make the coffee finally became degree.

Yet another explanation is that, when coffee is decocted for the first time, it is called as the first degree or simply as the “Degree Coffee”. This has the strongest flavour and the necessary strength to mix with milk without watering down the taste.

In less affluent households, in earlier days, coffee was decocted for a second or third time from the same initial load; this became the second degree coffee and naturally, is not as strong. Affluent households drank first degree or the famous “Degree Coffee” only.

  1. Nescafe and Bru.

By early 1970’s instant coffee appear. It had more welcoming though cost was more. For sudden coffee preparation these instants help. By seeing the flavour many confuse also with filter coffee. Today all houses will have a packet of instant coffee

  1. Coffee powder shops.

Today coffee powder shops different qualities like pebery, plantation, robusto, and home mix ready roasted. Grinding is always to filter standard. At one time roasting was done while one asked for coffee powder. Now roasted and kept. The hot grinded coffee powder is purchased

  1. Decoction. Now having refrigerator in all houses, coffee decoction is prepared for 2-3 days requirement in medium filters and kept in closed containers in fridge. Every morning and evening, what is required is taken from the container.

However freshly prepared decoction has more flavour. Second decoction and all are things of past.

  1. Brook bond coffee powder

There are many who use the packed coffee powder in filter of the companies and make filter coffee rather than using powder from shops. I think the companies too now a grind to filter stage and not very nice.

While in Trivandrum having no coffee powder shops near, my wife was using the packed powder in filter for coffee.

Writer- R. Gopala Krishnan, 69, retired AGM Telecom, Trivandrum now at Chennai.