If you've been in South India, you'll see people enjoying steaming cups of 'filter coffee' in the morning. Did you know that it was quite an adventure for coffee to come to India?
The adventure of Baba Budan
Baba Budan lived in the 17th century in what is now Chikmagalur District of Karnataka. He went to Arabia to perform the 'Hajj', which is a pilgrimage to Mecca. On the way back, he came via Yemen. There he encountered a strange drink that the Arabs living there made.
They made it by roasting and grinding the beans of a particular plant, and then brewing the powder in water. It was coffee! It was said that it was discovered by a Somali goatherd, who found that his goats became very perky after eating the leaves and berries of a particular plant that grew only in the shade.
When he tasted coffee, he was so excited that he wanted to take it back with him to India. But trade in coffee was tightly controlled by the Arabs. They wouldn't let anyone take seeds out to plant in their own country; they could only take the roasted beans.
Baba Budan managed to get hold of seven beans, which he hid among the folds of his long robes. As he was a very saintly man, few people thought of suspecting him. He left Yemen through the port of Mocha (from where the coffee by that name comes) and came back to Chikmagalur. He planted the beans - and luckily they grew!
Coffee in South India
Coffee has been enjoyed by South Indians ever since the time of Baba Budan. Even today, the best coffee beans are said to come coffee estates from Baba Budan Giri, a small range of hills in Chikmagalur district.
South Indians like to enjoy their coffee prepared by the 'filter method'. In this, a two-part vessel called a coffee filter is used. Roasted coffee powder is put in the upper chamber, and hot water is poured over it. The water dissolves the coffee and drips through the pores in the upper vessel into the lower one. The dark liquid that collects in it is called the 'decoction', which is mixed with hot milk and sugar and served. You can read a lot more about the chemistry that went into brewing that cup of coffee here.
Espresso coffee is made by passing steam through the ground coffee, using an espresso machine. It has half the amount of caffeine in it compared to filter coffee, as caffeine does not dissolve well in steam compared to water.
Bitter coffee for bitter times
The 1930s were a time of hardship known as the Great Depression. At that time, it became very expensive for many families to brew pure coffee every day. That was the time when people began to mix chicory along with coffee. Chicory comes from the dried and ground root of the chicory plant.
By itself, chicory powder is bitter tasting. But mixed with coffee powder, it does two things. It adds thickness to the coffee, so that less powder can be used. And the slight bitter taste it adds enhances the taste and aroma of the coffee. Chicory has some medical benefits, because it can help relieve headache and constipation. It also adds some dietary fibre to your cuppa!