A guide to buying the best South Indian brew in Delhi

Coffee is every God-fearing Tam Bram’s nightmare outside of Chennai. All that a good Tam wants is a cup of filter kaapi in the morning, that shot of caffeine to kickstart her day, to the strains of  ‘Suprabhatam’  by the mellifluous MSplaying in the background. (For those who know me, and are thinking, ‘What the heck, when does she listen to ‘Suprabhatam’? My parents do listen to it in the morning and my mom supplies me with my caffeine shot from her kitchen!)

Coffee served in a dawra & tumbler, South Indian style. Photo: Taken by me at a Degree Coffee House in Kalpakkam, TN


I remember when I was a kid and had to drink Horlicks, Viva, Boost, Bournvita or Protinex, all of which I hated, my dad had to have his perfectly brewed cup. So every month, along with our trip to Russell Market ( in Bangalore) to buy vegetables, we would return home via Queen’s Road, stopping at Coffee Board to buy our stock of coffee beans.  I still remember, it was equal portions of ‘peaberry’ and ‘plantation’ beans and sometimes, if my mother felt indulgent, the ‘peaberry’ would be replaced with ‘Arabica’ beans. Sh e would also buy 100 grams of chicory. ( Chicory is the roasted and ground root of the cultivated plant species, Chicorium Intybus, just looked that up on Wikipedia!). The beans would be roasted at home in a special iron griddle and stored in airtight jars. Every morning, they would be freshly ground in a small hand grinder attached on the kitchen counter . The powder would then be pressed into the top end of the South Indian style filter and the decoction  made. By this time the whole house would be smelling of coffee. What an aroma that used to be!
As the years went by, my dad became a little less fussy and we began buying various combinations of coffee powder from Nilgiri’s, to Coffee Board’s own brew to Narasu’s but finally she zeroed in on Cotha’s, a local Bangalore brand. (Nescafe  or Nes-kappi, as Tamilians often call it and  Bru   are complete no-nos in my house. They are not even consumed in moments of desperation for  a caffeine kick.)DSC_0099
Years later, when i moved to Delhi and began making coffee myself, I too began a hunt for the best brew. For a while, I used to buy the coffee powder from Coffee Board outlet, Indian Coffee Depot,  tucked away on Tolstoy Lane, just behind the corner petrol pump on Janpath and Tolstoy Marg crossing. Then we moved from KG Marg to Mayur Vihar, so trips to Coffee Board shop became less frequent and possible. Luckily, Mayur Vihar-I has the famous Ramakrishna Stores (that all South Indians on that side of the Yamuna flock to) and used to buy my brew. The shopkeeper mostly had Narasu’s,which I used, for the want of a better brew. But then we moved to Gurgaon and Ramakrishnan Stores too became out of reach and going to Rama Stores in Munirka was not an option.

Coffee being given a froth on top the traditional way


It was through a chance conversation with a neighborhood mami that I discovered a coffee heaven, tucked away in Khan Market, behind India Habitat Centre on Lodi Road: Devan’s Coffee. This little store is a magical place for coffee lovers. You get a range of brews and beans and you can mix ‘n’ match and make your perfect brew. Initially, it was exciting to stop by on my way from office and pick up my blend but over the years, Devan’s agreed to courier the coffee home. But once i betrayed his trust by mailing a cheque late, and he refused to courier it thereafter! So I had to find an alternative.
So the quest for coffee in Gurgaon began. I tried the Cafe Coffee Day & Starbucks brews, but it didn’t give us the flavor we were looking for. Then we discovered Balaji Stores in Chakkarpur ( the place for all things South Indian) sold the same Cotha’s brand of coffee from name Bengaluru. Now, for the past few years, I’m back to drinking my favorite brew that gives me the kaapi nirvana, i seek every morning.
PS: We still use the traditional filter, no fancy espresso machines for us. My mom turns her nose up at all the fancy equipment and prefers her trusty filter! (One coffee brewing machine still lies in the loft of my store-room, in its cardboard packing!)