Black or White?' 'Neither', I said haughtily. The server looked up rather puzzled. 'What do you mean?' He asked. 'I want neither black nor white, but brown which ought to be the colour of honest coffee - that's how we make it in South India where devotees of perfection in coffee assemble from all over the World'. - excerpt from the book My Dateless Diary written by author R K Narayan a self confessed coffee lover.
A South Indian Filter Coffee loving snob may perhaps have the exact same emotion as R K Narayan. Even with the existence of today's phenomenon of Cappuccinos and Espressos he would definitely prefer filter coffee that is made out of decoction from a percolator (Indian style drip coffee maker) that neither hurries nor pressures but which lets gravity do the work of extracting the best out of the coffee powder; adding just the right amount of sugar to cut the bitterness but not too sweet and infused with pure undiluted milk.
South Indian Coffee drinking is not a mere habit nor an addiction but an institution in itself that has fostered cultures across India and has become a corner stone in hospitality in Indian homes. A morning did not start in South Indian Homes without Suprapadam and a tumbler of filter coffee, an outing on a Sunday afternoon in the pre Cafe Coffee Day era was never complete if it did not culminate with eating Masala Dosa or Idly or Upma chased with filter coffee.
South Indian Coffee drinking is not a mere habit nor an addiction but an institution in itself.
Though Coffee came to India when saint Baba Budan in the 1600 AD brought Coffee Beans from Yemen on his return from pilgrimage, it remained as a backyard plant until the British entrepreneurs converted it into commercial plantations in the 18th Century. Largely grown as an export crop to supply British market, Coffee as a beverage started becoming popular within the Indian community as recently as the early 1900's.
The inculcation of coffee or Kaapi (as it was pronounced in the vernacular script) in the cultural tapestry of Indian households was not all smooth sailing. Before the advent of the coffee and tea, Rice Water (conjee) or Buttermilk was part of the morning ritual. Though it had started becoming popular in the late 19th Century, it was looked upon as a colonial and western influence that would contaminate the traditional culture. Gandhiji believing in puritanical way of life advocated against coffee, tea and cocoa while recommending his ideal diet of fresh fruits and nuts which also was another blow to the popularity of coffee.
But, coffee weathered the storm and began to be looked at as a cultural influence especially in the middle class homes of the south. Infact the filter coffee percolator used at many traditional homes today is the result of many years of trial and error of roasting coffee, grinding it and straining it with thin cloth.
The Rise of Kaapi
From the early 20th century, the popularity for the Indian Filter coffee soared and the tradition strongly entrenched itself in South Indian culture. Leo Coffee was founded in 1910, Narasu's Coffee was established in 1926, Cothas Coffee in 1948 all known for special coffee powder blends revered even today and some south Indians who cannot miss their morning tumbler of Kaapi carry their favourite brand abroad. Kaapi enveloped tradition to a great extent and it was not uncommon to ask the future daughter in law during the bride viewing ceremony if she knew how to prepare a good cup of coffee and the new bride had to show her mettle in cooking by preparing good filter coffee at her in laws house.
Innumerable Kaapi Bars cropped up across South India and some have survived even today to dish out tradition in a tumbler, including MTR established in 1920, Indian Coffee House Chain in 1936 VidhyarthiBhavan founded in 1943, Brahmin's Coffee Bar started in 1965 and SaravanBhavan in 1981 not to mention that today the Adigas, the Darshinis, AnandaBhavansand other fast food joints that sell litres and litres of coffee every day where, by-two coffee is the norm.
Many Kaapi Bars like the MTRs, VidhyarthuBhavan, Indian Coffee Houses and SaravanBhavans are dishing out tradition in a tumbler.
The advent of the Cafes
Then came the rise of the Cafes, the Cafe Coffee Days, Baristas, Mochas, Qwikys and more that offered variety to the consumers, bringing international drinks from abroad and oddly enough leaving out Indian Filter Coffee from the menu. This trend has become another wave in the coffee culture of India wooing coffee drinkers as well as non drinkers alike, appealing to the youth and spreading its aroma to the tea drinking north.
Rooting for Tradition
While the international styled cafes charmed consumers, the demand for traditional coffee has not dimmed. Infact, South Indian filter coffee sold across fast food restaurants is the true coffee culture of South India, where people go to savour just the coffee, not the ambience, not to spend time with friends or to enjoy a cultural environment or make a style statement but just for coffee.
Recognising this passion for the traditional coffee several of the Indian entrepreneurs have started Cafes that aim to popularise the Indian Style Filter Coffee. KaapiKudil, HattiKaapi and Madras Coffee House are some of the brands that have emerged recently as an ode to coffee tradition. What is more, the ventures have been successes and have become a hit with the public.
South Indian filter coffee sold across fast food restaurants is the true coffee culture of South India
Creating new markets for Filter Coffee
From being seen as a homely drink for the elderly in south India, filter Coffee has been rapidly expanding its presence to emerge as a popular beverage among new consumer segments in India. This caffeine revolution has been catalyzed by the activities of entrepreneurial business firms that have sought to tap the latent demand for good quality filter Coffee. One of the leaders in this pack of Coffee firms that have been serving south Indian-style filter Coffee through Cafes and Kiosks in India is HattiKaapi (Hatti - rural dwelling, Kaapi - colloquial expression of Coffee).
Starting off in 2009 by setting up a 30 sq.ft outlet below a staircase in Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore, HattiKaapi today has 26 outlets in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Primarily operating with the kiosk format, HattiKaapi's outlets sell about 55,000 cups of coffee a day in corporate premises, shopping malls, cinemas and airports. Headquartered in Bangalore, HattiKaapi has charted out its plans for accelerated growth in the years to come by reaching out to new geographies and segments.
Mr. U.S. Mahendar, founder of HattiKaapi, is driven by the passion to create a viable business that offers 'excellent, high-quality, authentic filter Coffee'. When coffee marketing was liberalized in India in 1994, Mahendar began trading coffee beans and subsequently tried his hand at starting a coffee premixes business in 2002 which emerged as the largest supplier of premixes to corporate partner by 2005.
The constant urge to work with Coffee drove Mahendar to establish a Coffee R&G facility (drum roaster) in 2008, with an intention to sell ground coffee to a recognized restaurant chain, the attempt was not successful while consumers comments were positive. Reinforced by the feedback, the team changed track to establish own outlets wherein coffee would be the primary product aggressively priced.
27 November, 2009, 4.45 a.m. - the first HattiKaapi outlet was opened in an area of 30 sq. ft under a staircase in the largely traditional locality of Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore, equipped with a milk boiler and percolator. The branding was in kannada with the logo depicting a traditional coffee consumer. A self-developed ground Coffee blend from Coffee beans procured directly from select plantations was used in the outlet. Coffee was sold at Rs. 5 per cup compared to Rs. 8-10 at which Darshinis (Quick, self-service restaurants) sold filter Coffee. Day one saw 300 cups of Coffee being sold. Aggressive promotions in the locality led to the outlet selling 3,500 cups a day by the fifteen day of the opening. With consumer feedback asking for snacks with coffee upma was procured from a well known eatery and within a few months own kitchen was established to prepare upma, bisibele bath and daily specials like pongal and puliyogare. However the outlet had to be closed after 4 months as the local municipal authorities declined to renew the business's trade license.