Tag Archives: Tamil Nadu

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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New Trailer Out- ‘The Surf Trail’

Our little documentary on the Covelong Surf Festival is all set to release in November. The festival was conducted in August, and was getting sewn up in the edit room all this long. Here’s a little trailer and a couple of images. Let us know how you found it!

Monsoon and Surfs in Covelong
Monsoon and Surfs in Covelong

Jonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil NaduJonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil Nadu

Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfing has its hits and misses
Surfing has its hits and misses

 

#TravellerStories-03-Of Happy Pizzas and Other Stories!

Let’s meet Nikhilesh Murthy who is third on this series called  #TravellerStories. He’s a traveller from Bangalore in India  who blogs at about lifestyle and culture in various places. He is a marketer for an IT company in Bangalore. In this episode, we throw a few questions at him and find out what he likes and doesn’t.

Why the need for such a series like TravellerStories? We hear so many travel stories, but we’d be able to appreciate the travel stories at a relative level, only when these same questions are put to people at different place, we’d probably have a sense of awe towards how geography and history places a bias on our thinking. So these are nice postcards that you want to quickly rummage through, over an evening snack. Yes, just meant over tea and biscuits.

Nikhilesh Murthy saying Cheers!
Nikhilesh Murthy saying Cheers!

A) Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

For all practical purposes, I am a “Bangalorean”. While my roots are in Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, I only go there once a year to visit the family deity. I work in the marketing department of an IT company and am responsible for one of their technology functions. When I’m not doing that, I’m busy attending music shows or trying out new food at places across the city. I make it a point to take a few weeks off every six months and go travelling, some times on my own, sometimes thanks to work.

B) What’s the most cliched thing that outsiders say or feel about your city/country?

Most folks I’ve met are always surprised as to how I can speak English so clearly (and many times better than them). They also get surprised when I talk about world politics, western music, etc and don’t know too much about fixing computers. Many folks also get a bit shocked when I talk about bands like Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters, Black Keys  and musicians like Miles Davis or Jack White because their assumption is that we all listen only to “Indian music”, which is either Punjabi music ( an opinion of folks from the UK and Canada) or Bollywood music. I also enjoy living in hostels and travelling solo. So many of the local folk find it odd that I’m not sticking to the general impression they have that Indians (like the Chinese) travel in large groups and are quite loud. I wouldn’t completely blame them for that stereotype.

C) What’s that one dish travellers should try out at your city and where?

I always encourage folks to try out the famous masala dosa in Bengaluru. I’ve taken a handful of foreign friends to the Airlines Hotel ( but CTR in Malleswaram is the best). And they love that along with the vada. They find “the savoury peppery donut” quite fascinating.

D) Reg exploring places outside your city, which is your favourite place (and why) ?

I don’t think there is a single place as such that comes to mind. So many options – Mysore, Mangalore, Coorg, Chikmaglur just to name a few. Each of these are very different from the urban jungle of Bengaluru. Less traffic, more polite folks, a lot of nature to discover. And not to forget, great food. Just try the pandi curry (pork curry) in the average Coorg household or the ghee roast in a Mangalorean house to know what an array of flavours we have to offer.

E) Of all your travels on work, which city charmed you the most and why?

I was in love with New York for the longest time, but a trip to New Orleans changed all that. The culture and vibe of the city is very unlike any other US city I’ve been to. There’s jazz and blues at every corner; come night time, the bands play on the streets and people dance away. Not to forget the cajun styled food which offers familiar Indian flavours yet is completely different. The architecture of the old French and Spanish styled streets make for beautiful pictures. I was fortunate to be in the city during the French Quarter music festival. It was an experience like no other and is now the benchmark for what a music festival should be.

F) What is the craziest thing you have ever done while travelling? 

Most of these stories are best shared over a cold brew. To name one,  I would have to say that during my recent trip to Cambodia, eating a pizza topped with some unmentionable organic elements, which led to some embarrassing situations once the good stuff kicked in, was not one of the brightest ideas I’ve had.

Nikhilesh Murthy in Cambodia, trying to cover a sunrise at Angkor VatNikhilesh Murthy in Cambodia, trying to cover a sunrise at Angkor Vat

If you would like to be featured and tell your stories that may be of interest to the traveller community, do write in to us at Kartik@katchutravels.com

The Covelong Music and Surfing Festival 2016

Covelong near Chennai, is home to the annual 3 day beach fest with Surfing, Music and Yoga as the main attractions by the beach. Usually the 3 day festival happens in August or September. To know more about the festival and latest dates click here. Go further to read what happened in 2016’s edition of the Covelong Surf Festival

The real beauty of a music festival by the beach is not as much about the music, as much as it is about the vibes that evening. Its about a crowd that wants to jive about, its about a musician who wants to get the crowd involved, even if they don’t understand the music.

Usually the Covelong music festival has an acoustic stage and a beach stage through the day, but its the night that takes centre stage. The colours, the scent of the salted sea, the colours of the locals and fireworks, and yes the Bass thundering its away besides the raging waves makes for 3 evenings of high octane raving over music. I didn’t quite understand the music, but shaking a leg and feeling lighter is probably the key, as I would discover.

 

surf1

Fuzzculture’s Arsh was engaging with the audience really well. He looked like the singer KK when seen from behind with long hair, and a guitar round his shoulder.

surf2

 

He had quite an aura emanating, when the smoke from the stage were seen in the background of the lights. The independent music scene and the musicians surely had me think, that I should probably move beyond bollywood and popular music.

surf3

 

surf4

surf5

 

The crowd genuinely seemed to be interested in listeing to the musician and it was nice to see the local fisherman also getting involved trying to sample the music.

surf6

surf7

The front stage is not where all the action happens. I briefly went behind and saw the stage from behind, and it looked like the cover of a music band, with all colours of the spectrum lit against the dark of the twilight playing into darkness’s hands.

surf8

The local flavour at the beach near Chennai was the corn seller selling corn. It was not overpriced like a lot of commericalised corn. I took some corn, rested on the sands, looked at the moon in the distance, its reflection on the sea and thanked providence for providing a beautiful experience of music by the Bay of Bengal. I would come back tommorow for the surfing. Till then, it was time to get to Mahabalipuram and go and catch the highlights of the India-West Indies T20 games being played then in Florida.

Corn seller at the beach, during the Covelong Surf Festival
Corn seller at the beach, during the Covelong Surf Festival

I came back the next day to watch some surfs and was spellbound by the magic they created in traversing the sea with their artistry

Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival
Surfing on the East Coast of India- Covelong Surf Festival