They have always been our wake up alarm. A companion during late night assignments and last minute projects. For the others, it has served simply as a break. Coffee has been an integral part of the lives of humans ever since its find and domestication. In India however, it has gone a step above. This can especially be seen in the city of chennai, famous for its coffee after its dosas and sambar.

A different tale is observed here in Chennai, when it comes to coffee. The ‘coffee custom’ struck the city and soon became an epidemic. Its not just a myth that coffee is addictive pretty much like other drugs. The only difference is that, its legal. The people of Chennai seemed to have become addicted to the beverage more than tea and the taste is passed on through generations, thus making sure that the coffee market here never banks down. The citizens of Chennai have their own customs when it comes to drinking and serving it. Its not a surprise that coffee has become one of the most sought after beverages here, owing to its many benefits.

Its history-in short

The birthplace of coffee is believed to have been somewhere in Ethiopia. However, it was not until the 17th century that the seeds reached the South Indian soil. The drink had already made its way to the other parts of the world by then. It was believed that a certain person, on his pilgrimage, came across the wonderful taste and experience of coffee. He then wanted the people of his city to taste and experience the heavenly feeling, the aroma and the richness of the beverage. So, it is said that he had brought a handful of these seeds, safely hidden inside his waist pouch. Thus, coffee entered the southern soil.


However, the people here were already contented with their traditional beverages, which included buttermilk, porridge and milk. So, naturally, the seeds took it own time to get accustomed to the people. Along with coffee came another refreshing beverage, which was in the form of leaves and went by the name of tea. Tea however, was more easily accepted by the people than coffee and was soon boiling in almost  every house. By this time, India came under the control of the British and colonisation happened. During this time, the market was not in favour of the lower and middle  classes as prices of even the basic amenities were high. This was another reason for the popularity of tea  when compared to coffee. The price of tea was much cheaper than coffee, which was usually drunk by the upper classes and the officials. This was another reason why tea was usually called-“The poor man’s drink” by some.

However, by the start of the 19th century, the tables were turning and tea took a back seat.   From then on till now, there was no turning back as coffee smartly captured the first position in the hearts of the people.  Before long, every street corner, every road and side-road had a coffee stall. Today, in addition to the many coffee stalls propped up  on the roads, there are various other coffee hang-outs, complete with plush interiors, foreign coffee recipes and fully air conditioned centres, sprawled across the map of Chennai.

The coffee culture

As coffee slowly gained popularity, it turned out to be more of a fashion statement for someone,to say that they are coffee-addicts. The modern coffee shops attracted quite a lot of people like flies attracted to a ripe banana.This may be termed as the modern coffee culture in Chennai. Almost contrary to the beliefs of the people, even the roadside stalls are equally frequented.

However, the people of Chennai have the best of both worlds. The traditional culture imbibes the warmth of one serving his/her guests by serving coffee as a complimentary, followed by snacks. The city dwellers prefer a milky blend of 70% coffee and 30% chicory. This is varied though, according to one’s requirement. The chicory content is either increased or decreased depending on whether one wants a strong or light blend. Back in the olden days, the meager average income was just enough to buy jaggery or honey, as sugar seemed almost improbable because of the taxes implied on them.

coffee two

Coffee had become such an integral part of everyone’s lives that various coffee -powder producing shops opened up. These, specialized in grinding the raw coffee beans, brought in fresh, from the coffee estates. They had specialised grinding machines, where, fresh beans along with the chicory powder were put in the exact required proportion and were crushed to a fine powder.  They are then packed and hermetically sealed to prevent the rich aroma and the taste from being lost.

Coffee was usually the beverage of the working class. Though there was a small hesitation in accepting the filtered coffee by certain groups of the society,  it soon lost its steam and coffee found its way into the shelves of every home.


The filter ‘kaapi’


The perfect filter coffee is made by the right ingredients and the right vessels (or containers) are used. The filter, is a metallic, perforated, flat plate used to neatly filter only the essence of the coffee powder. This is in turn, used to make the essence or the decoction, from which the coffee is actually made, by mixing it with hot milk. The vessel used to make the decoction is a stainless steel vessel containing two halves. The top half contains the place where the perforated plate-like vessel is placed firmly. Boiled hot water, along with the coffee powder is poured in slowly at a steady rate to prevent solidification of the powder. It is then left for sometime for the essence to slowly sediment and drip down to the lower vessel which acts as a storage container.

Though there are various flavours and types of coffee now available, the basis for the preparation of the essence is pretty much the same.

Coffee has indeed become a part and parcel of the people of Chennai and there’s always the whiff of coffee in the air, here in Chennai.