Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hot beverages, south Indian style

Neither Robert nor I were ever big coffee drinkers. My parents didn't drink it when I was growing up, so I never really thought about it until I was about 16. At that point my schoolwork became sufficiently demanding (at least during the busiest times) that my sleep was lacking, and I'd caffeinate myself up on a mixture of coffee, hot chocolate and raspberry flavored black tea. It was pretty damn delicious, actually, in addition to providing quite a jolt.

But, after high school I only rarely drank coffee. My dad did eventually succumb to coffee's charms (aided and abetted by my brother, who came home from Costa Rica with a traditional Costa Rican coffee maker as a gift for dad), and my brother has been an off and on coffee drinker, but although I liked certain types of coffee I didn't drink it daily, or even weekly. Robert never drank coffee.

At any rate, all that changed when we got to south India. South India has a long history of coffee drinking, and coffee culture there is both unique and deeply ingrained. Most Americans think of India and tea, not realizing that in the south coffee is of at least equal prominence.

And south Indian coffee is delicious. It's drunk in small stainless steel cups, hot and sweet. It wasn't long before we were drinking a cup or two every day. Of course we had no idea how to make it, so we weren't drinking it first thing in the morning. Instead we drank it after lunch, and sometimes after dinner too. I don't know if it was because of the time of day we were drinking it or if we were just lucky (actually, in Robert's case we know: he is a fast metabolizer of caffeine), but neither of us ever needed coffee. We just wanted it.

So before we came back to New York, I wisely hit up a stainless steel store on Sampige Rd in Malleswaram and bought a south Indian filter coffee maker. I bought some of the tumblers and davarahs too, for good measure. But what I didn't buy was coffee.

The day after we got back to the states we went grocery shopping, and I bought coffee at Trader Joe's, and ground it nice and fine.  A couple days later I tried making coffee with it in my new coffee maker.


I mean, it was drinkable. It wasn't bad coffee. But it sure as shit wasn't south Indian coffee. It tasted American, and Robert and I were both sad. So off to the internet I went. What kind of coffee, available in the US, was closest to traditional south Indian coffee? I asked google, friends on Facebook, and sent emails to friends in India.

There was no clear consensus, and I've been waffling about what to do. Tiju offered to mail me coffee powder, but that would clearly be a stopgap solution, as I can't have him mailing me coffee every month! I think what I'll probably do next is try out one of the New Orleans blend coffees, as they use chicory, which is used in south India as well. But I might order the Mysore blend from the Deckan Coffee company. I just don't know!

Just for kicks today I tried making south Indian style coffee with some TJ's instant coffee. It was still pretty far from right, but it was closer than the coffee made with proper ground beans, which was a little depressing.

Then Robert mentioned that he was finding his tea unsatisfying. Because, you see, we didn't just drink coffee at Prakruthi every day...we often drank tea, too! And the tea was just as distinctive and delicious as the coffee. Since my coffee experiments were not going well I figured I had nothing to lose and gave re-creating Prakruthi tea a shot. To my delight, that went much better! It wasn't identical, but it was at least a worthy competitor. I think if I buy some nicer tea (I was just using bags of English Breakfast) I could get even closer. Tea FTW!

But you know what? I was totally right to buy tumblers and davarahs. Drinking out them, even sub-par, American flavored coffee, takes me back to Bangalore, and I feel happy. 


Joanne Young said...

This was educational for me. The tea and coffee, must be pretty darn good in India! After reading this post, I'd like to try some!
I surely understand not needing coffee, but wanting coffee. I'm getting to like it myself.

Kristofer Young said...

The phrase, "sure as shit", has quite the authoritative ring.

Bhama said...

If you can get to an Indian grocery store - Bru Instant is the closest thing I have gotten to South Indian coffee. Also I add hot milk to the coffee to get the froth on top.

Vimala Vignesh said...

Jovi to make south indian style filter coffee, buy Bru green label filet coffee powder from the Indian Grocery stores and for two of you I would say 3 heaped Tablespoons would give you enough decoction for a day:) Then pour boiling hot water into your filter and it takes a while to percolate. Have milk hot and ready. Take 1/4 tumbler(the stainless steel one you got from Bangalore) of the coffee decoction and top it up with hot milk and add required amount of sugar and mix well to get a nice frothy sweet coffee:) I am a coffee addict! I have to have my morning cuppa or else the whole world hears about it:)


Vimala Vignesh said...

oops forgot to add that you need to add the coffee powder in your filter and press it down with a thingamajig that came with the filter before you pour in the water:)