Coffee, South Indian style

Coffee - South Indian style

What makes a unique coffee experience? For PEGGY LOH, it happened inside a parked coach in the Tamil Nadu countryside

IF you are a coffee connoisseur, you mustn’t miss the exciting experience of a South Indian coffee.

Unlike some strong brews that can pop your eyeballs, this coffee is just right and upon request, it can even be served kurang manis (less sweet).

My first encounter with South Indian coffee was an interesting one. A few Indian friends and I were travelling by private coach to Padappai, 38km from Chennai. On the way, we stopped for a refreshment break and the men got down. I too stood up but when I saw that all the Indian women remained seated, I took their cue and stayed on board. In her limited English, one of them explained that it was not customary for women to join the men for breaks during journeys.

As she spoke, someone knocked on the coach window and one of the men handed us hot drinks carefully passed through an open window. When I got mine, I wondered what to do as the coffee was served in a metal tumbler in a tiny metal pot!

Once again, I looked to my Indian friend for help. She was clearly amused that I was so clueless. She demonstrated the common, traditional way to enjoy Madras Coffee. She poured the coffee from the tumbler into the dabarah, a wide metal saucer which looked like a tiny pot and it dawned on me that this was the original “tarik”!

Pouring coffee into the dabarah
To cool the drink, she swirled it around in the dabarah. Then she poured it back into the tumbler without spilling a single drop.

For me, Indian coffee is like cafe latte because of its generous lashing of fresh milk. The repeated pouring process thoroughly churned the coffee with the milk, creating a frothy topping while cooling it down.

This was how I came to have one of my most delightful coffee experiences inside a parked coach in the Tamil Nadu countryside. As I sipped my drink, my Indian friends smiled to see how I had grown a white moustache from the milky foam!

The next time I enjoyed the drink was in a tiny café in a Chennai shopping mall. When I saw the tumbler of milky coffee served inside the dabarah, I fancied myself quite the expert. But I soon learned that it definitely required perfect eye and hand co-ordination to tip the coffee from one receptacle into the other without an embarrassing splash!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 27 January 2008

1 comment:

  1. Hi Peggy. I got this too, in a south indian restaurant in Karol Bagh, New Delhi - called Saravana Bhawan. I was as clueless as you and so the amused waiter had to help me with my lovely, milky coffee. Gwen