Tag Archives: Coffee

In search of Kumbakonam’s Famed ‘Degree Coffee”

I make the transition from the 4th to the 5th gear, when I see signs of Kumbakonam Degree Coffee on the Chennai-Bangalore highway near Kanchipuram. The Coffee that they serve is usually passable, to the point that it helps you refresh on a car ride, and then you get back to driving. While I have seen spurious copies of the Kumbakonam Degree Kaapi, I always wondered whether I would anytime be able to amble by for an original filter coffee/Degree Coffee at Kumbakonam. I found an opportunity recently, and I thought I should get to the right place to have the coffee. So I set out in an auto from the bus stand to the Venkkatramana Hotel, which I was told was the best place to sample the ‘Degree Kaapi’

What is the Degree Kaapi? Why is it called so?

Degree Coffee in a Brass Dabara-Kumbakonam
Degree Coffee in a Brass Dabara-Kumbakonam

Coffee is a mix of Decoction and Milk, and the Degree Coffee is basically using the first decoction of the day, with boiled milk at a particular temperature around 110 degrees (and hence the ‘Degree’ in the name). The first decoction is also sometimes called as the first degree. Quora has an interesting thread, that also says that chicory was mis-pronunced as Tikery and that came to be known as degree. The decoction comes from the Arabica and Robusta Coffee beans. Apparently Coffee came to India from Yemen in the 1600’s and the Coffee at Venkkatramana hotel comes through ‘Mohan Coffee Works’ which makes the powder, after sourcing it from the hilly tracts of Chikmaglur in Karnataka.

People queing up for Coffee Powder at Mohan Coffee Works-Kumbakonam
People queing up for Coffee Powder at Mohan Coffee Works-Kumbakonam

WikiPedia also mentions this on Filter coffee- ” The upper cup is loaded with freshly ground coffee. The grounds are then compressed (i.e., tamped) with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup’s pierced bottom. The coarser the coffee grinds, the more one has to tamp the coffee to retain the same extraction. With the press disc left in place, the upper cup is nested into the top of the tumbler and boiling water is poured inside. The lid is placed on top, and the device is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory holds on to the hot water a little longer, letting the water dissolve and extract more of the coffee grinds.

The resulting brew is generally much stronger than Western drip/filter coffee, and often stronger than even espresso.”

Where is Kumbakonam?

Kumbakonam is a temple town in Tamil Nadu by the Cauvery river known for its temples. It’s also the hometown of the famous mathematician Ramanujam. Kumbakonam plays host to the ‘Mahamaham’ which is held once in 12 years (very similar to the Maha Kumbha Mela with a rythmic 12 year cycle)

Kumbakonam- 6 hours away from Chennai (Tamil Nadu)
Kumbakonam- 6 hours away from Chennai (Tamil Nadu)

In Search of the ‘Degree Kaapi’

I figured out that there were 4-5 places one could go to for sampling the ‘Degree Coffee’ in Kumbakonam. There is Murali’s Cafe, Krishna Bhavan, Mangaleshwara Cofee Hotel and Venkkatramana Hotel if you want to have the Coffee directly. If you want to take home some memories there is Venus Coffee Shop and Mohan Coffee Works. I chose the last hotel in each of  lists, as I was recommended this by the local auto-driver

The auto driver taking me through Kumbakonam
The auto driver taking me through Kumbakonam

I hear the first destination to sample the Coffee was 10 minutes away. The auto driver, drove with an air of superiority as if he was the crowned prince who was steaming down his private road, passionately muttering things about the little lanes we pass by. I also hear him put together a temple package for the evening. I nod my head and say, we’l see. As it turns out he chose to assist me filming at the venue, in return for some coffee and tiffin.

Route from Kumbakonam Bus Stand to Venkkatramana Hotel
Route from Kumbakonam Bus Stand to Venkkatramana Hotel

Venkkatramana Hotel- Go For the Coffee

We met the Venkkatrama hotel’s proprietor who tells me about the history of how the Pasumpon Coffee Club used to have fresh cow’s milk early in the morning and how that used to lend a special taste as the decoction added was the first one. Usually the taste withers off with the second and third decoction, and that’s where the difference in taste happens. The earliest person to make this was Panchapakesa Iyer, who used to own cows and start making the first brew available at his Lakshmi Vilas hotel as early as 5 am. Over time, there have been more people from the Iyer community of Tamil Nadu who have set up shops, but there are only a few in operation, including the Venkkatramana hotel.

Do watch him and my experience with the Degree Coffee in the below video.

 

K-Balachandran-Proprietor of Venkkatramana Hotel
M-Balachandran-Proprietor of Venkkatramana Hotel

Post the ‘Degree Kaapi’ experience at Venkkatramana hotel, I proceeded to Mohan Coffee Works to go buy some coffee back home for my father, as he loves the powder from this store.

Buying Coffee Memories for Home- Mohan Coffee Works

Coffee Machines at work-Mohan Coffee Works(Kumbakonam)
Coffee Machines at work-Mohan Coffee Works(Kumbakonam)
Route to Mohan Coffee Works from Kumbakonam Bus Stand
Route to Mohan Coffee Works from Kumbakonam Bus Stand

 

The Coffee machines usually aim to ground 100 grams of the beans to around 80 grams of coffee powder. Usually this is an indication of very high quality, but its probably for the connoisseurs of this special taste of Coffee. This process is called roasting and after the heating is done, its advisable that the powder cools for 5-10 minutes, else the powder is half baked.

Chicory is added for colour before the Coffee powder is lapped by customers. However the beauty of the ‘Degree Kaapi’ is the heating up of the un-diluted milk to 110 degrees, and then mixing it with pre-heated decoction

I signed off from Kumbakonam, after making my bag pregnant with 4 packets of Coffee powder, and promised to come back for more to explore this little town. I am interested to go to the nearby temples on my own pace, and I hope to come back to Kumbakonam to just be able to do that over the weekend.

 

 

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Travel Postcards #5

This edition of the Travel Postcards takes you to Coorg in Karnataka.

“This series, called the Travel Postcards are basically the short story version of a single frame. Some tales are told between 2 sips of your juice. These are those tales. Not too long, Not too short, a little context, a little perspective and yes, they do act as a pill, that you can pop up for some travel inspiration”

It’s 6:15 in the morning. That’s what the clock says. It’s chill and dark, and there’s no reason to get up. Maybe I could go out there and capture the sunrise, waiting for it to come. Maybe!

I snooze the alarm, hoping to get up in the next 120 seconds. Just that 1 second was not 1 second in that comfortable state of sleep that I was. A sudden premonition of a missed sunrise, woke me up with a start, and when I looked around, the windows had light passing through, and I had overslept. I quickly opened the door and took out my phone (S7 Edge), and saw this scene outside the house. I immideately snapped. I did not have the time, for taking my SLR Camera out of my bag, fix the right lens, and wait for a frame. The frame was outside the door, and said a fleeting goodbye before the sun chose to go higher! I thanked providence for the oppurtunity and went back to sleep next to my son.

Behind me was the Nagarhole National Park, and in front of me was a coffee estate in a little village called Balele. In the midst of nature, I was staying at Jagale Home stay, pristine for its location, food and its wonderful hosts Pavita and Ramesh. Do read Part-1, Part-2, Part-3 and Part-4 of the stay

Waking up to a Coorgi morning at Jagale Home Stay
Waking up to a Coorgi morning at Jagale Home Stay

After a while, I got up, the scene was normal but not surreal, but I learnt that it maybe worth it to get up early on holiday. Learn more about the trip to Coorg in Karnataka later this month.

A splending morning at Jagale Home Stay in Coorg
A splending morning at Jagale Home Stay in Coorg