While most of us think India is all about tea (and of course it is!), people in south India have a strong coffee tradition. It is said that a 17th C. Muslim saint smuggled a few coffee beans from Yemen in his beard as he passed through that country on his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca. He planted the beans in the southern region of Karnataka where it remained a local secret for several centuries. It wasn’t really until the late 19th century that coffee became hugely popular in southern India. While coffee drinking is now spread throughout India, it remains at its very best and most traditional in the south.
Photo by Ganesh H Shankar
© Ganesh H. Shankar

Coffee is served along with breakfast and anytime during the day with a variety of snacks and breads. This coffee is made with coffee powder or fresh ground coffee beans, hot water, milk, and sugar (resist the urge to do without sugar – it’s all part of the taste experience).

Traditional South India filter coffee is served in beautiful stainless-steel tumbler and dabarah (container and cup). The coffee (sometimes mixed with chicory) is prepared either in a large percolator or brewed directly in the tumbler as in a French press. Full fat creamy milk (yes it does need to be full fat!) mixed with sugar to taste is prepared separately and brought to a boil. The coffee and hot milk is poured into the tumbler and then the magic begins… Pouring the coffee between the tumbler and the dabarah creates the classic frothy layer over the filter coffee. The coffee is ‘pulled’ from the tumbler to the dabarah in a beautiful and showy display. Experts can stretch this to as much as one or two meters! The effect is to mix the ingredients thoroughly, cool the hot coffee to sipping temperature, and aerate the mix without adding extra water.

This beautiful and delicious coffee is found throughout south India! Take me there >>