Kumbakonam degree coffee is a name that is reminiscent of the days of yore – served in traditional brass ‘davaras’ and swished just enough to linger on your tastebuds while you wait for your second cup to arrive.
For a town known for its association with Srinivasa Ramanujan, a mathematical genius, and the abundance of brass vessels, Kumbakonam is where you must go if you wish to avoid signboards of Kumbakonam degree coffee. Before you misunderstand, the lack of signages does not point towards the apparent abundance of something, but the lack thereof.
Renowned for the Kumbakonam degree coffee, there isn’t a single place that offers it in an obvious manner. You see, Kumbakonam degree coffee needs an ingredient that sets it apart from its competitors and counterparts, and if you guessed coffee, you are wrong.
Kumbakonam derives its coffee supply-primarily Arabica and Robusta-from the Tamil Nadu hills such as Kodaikanal, Yercaud, and Nilgiris, and regions of Chikkamagaluru and Kodagu in Karnataka. While the origins might be from beans shared with many towns in the south, there is no doubt that Kumbakonam degree coffee is rare in the town of Kumbakonam itself. Before we dive into the finer details of why it is so, let us delve into its history.
How it All Started
The popularity of Kumbakonam degree coffee is credited to none other than Panchapikesa Iyer, Lakshmi Vilas’s proprietor. “The credit goes to Panchapikesa Iyer, the proprietor of Lakshmi Vilas also called Pasumpal (cow’s milk) Coffee Club, where coffee would flow from 5 a.m. till late evening. The milk was sourced from 12 milch cows in the cattle-shed right behind the hotel. Being on the main road, every bus passing this way used to stop here for a tumbler (drinking glass),” says septuagenarian V. Venkatraman of Raman’s coffee, who claims to have supplied powder during the final years before the shop closed and Iyer’s successors moved out. (Source: The Hindu)
Kumbakonam Degree coffee: Why the degree?
It seems quite unusual to add the word ‘degree’ to a name. So why did the people of Kumbakonam resort to naming their coffee this way? Well, as mysterious as it sounds, the word is jammed into the name due to its association with lactometers that test the purity of milk. Much like a thermometer, the lactometer has markings that read the purity of fresh, unadulterated milk. Co-operative societies would often test the purity of milk, and if it read under the letter ‘M’ on the lactometer scale, it would be considered high quality.
However, these days, all shop owners buy milk in packets, and it might be nearly two decades since shop owners made authentic, sustainable degree coffee as they used to before. While folks aren’t keen on advertising their coffee on signages, they also seem unhappy that other cities have taken it upon themselves to brand “Kumbakonam degree coffee” over shops and outlets.
Kumbakonam Degree Coffee: How Its Made
Kumbakonam Degree coffee calls for traditional coffee filters that come in three-four parts. The apparatus looks like a sizeable lidded tumbler that can be separated. The top part has a perforated base that allows the coffee to percolate into the tumbler below. High-quality coffee powder is added to the top of the apparatus, and hot water is poured over it. The filtering takes close to 30 minutes, and the decoction is transferred to a hot water bath to keep it warm for use. Fresh milk is heated over a double boiler to ensure that it doesn’t burn and later used with the decoction to make the perfect cup.
A couple of decades ago, however, milk would be boiled fresh for each batch of coffee. Faster and convenient methods have replaced traditional ones, an inevitable consequence of modernizing meaningful and straightforward rituals.
First, a clean and shiny ‘davara’ set is placed on the counter. Sugar is added to the bottom of the tumbler and followed with a generous amount of decoction. The sugar and decoction mixture is topped by fresh, full-fat milk giving it a rich taste like no other. The coffee is then poured in arc-like motions with the liquid spilling from one vessel into the other, lending it a frothy top that could make any Cappucino jealous.
Why Kumbakonam Degree Coffee is made Using a Brass Coffee Filter and Why We Consume it in a Brass Davara Set
The process of making Kumbakonam Degree Coffee involves the use of the traditional brass coffee filter. The coffee grounds are added to the topmost container and hot water is poured over them. The lid is then shut and a faint trickling sound can be heard, of fresh decoction spilling into the container below. This steaming nectar is then collected and set into a water bath to keep it warm for service. As for the brass Davara set, it is said that at Pasumpal Coffee Club, servers would wash the brass davaras until they shone like glass! The novelty of brass davaras has not worn off to this day, and if you asked those that swore by it, you’d only hear this: “It tastes much better drinking from it.” It is believed that brass imparts a signature taste to the coffee that it holds, giving the guest a unique experience in terms of taste and aroma.
The Modern Rendition
The popularity of Kumbakonam Degree Coffee is not lost on anyone. The proof is in the advertorial pudding of excessive Kumbakonam Degree coffee signages seen outside of town. Coffee shop owners have replaced fresh milk with what comes in bags and packets- heavily processed, lacking in nutritional value, and definitely older than the milk you’d get to drink if you owned a few milch cows of your own.
All is not lost though, as enthusiastic coffee shop owners are doing what they can by finding alternative means to source the fresh ingredients needed to keep this traditional recipe alive.
How to make Kumbakonam Degree Coffee At Home
Thankfully, making Kumbakonam Degree Coffee is far from rocket science. You’ll only need good quality coffee, fresh full-fat milk, and a dazzling brass Davara set that has been polished to kingdom come. Fret not, we won’t judge.
- Prepare your coffee decoction by adding good quality powdered coffee into a brass coffee filter. Pour hot water over the powder and place the lid on it. Wait for the coffee to drip down into the container below and keep it warm in a hot water bath.
- Add sugar to the bottom of your glass.
- Pour in your desired amount of decoction; 15ml is the recommended quantity.
- Top the warm liquid with boiled, hot milk begin pouring it from one vessel to the other of the davara set until you have frothy coffee that is well-mixed.
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