The Ultimate Guide to Indian Filter Coffee

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

It's about time an ultimate guide to Indian filter coffee was put together. So here it is. All you need to know about the Indian filter coffee. Right from its history, addition of chicory, brewing technique and preparation, how it's different from western filter coffees, this is the one and only definitive guide you'll ever need to understand this centuries old beverage! Let's dig in \m/

kaapi with newspaper

Plus we've made it as simple as possible for you to follow by using 'coffee jargon' as little as possible!

We'll cover the following (feel free to navigate to the section you are most interested in),

  • KAAPI - What's in a name?

  • History of Indian Filter Coffee in India

  • What is chicory and it's role in Indian Filter Coffee?

  • What to expect when a coffee is labelled Indian Filter Coffee?

  • Indian Filter Coffee at a cafe

  • Coffee Extraction ~ The 'Decoction' Brewing Technique

  • Preparation & Serving Style ~ Making Indian Filter Coffee

  • Frothing Indian Filter Coffee

  • Indian Filter Coffee vs Western Filter Coffee

KAAPI - What's in a name?

Most Indian coffee is grown in the Southern Indian states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. While each of these states have their own distinct culture and language, the word KAAPI means coffee!

kaapi indian filter coffee

KAAPI was probably adopted as a phonetic rendering of the word coffee in South Indian languages, much like 'Kopi' in South East Asian countries or like 'Kaffee' in German.

History of Indian Filter Coffee in India

The Indian filter coffee is variously known as filter coffee, degree coffee, Mysore filter coffee or Kumbakonam coffee, and was a staple in South Indian households long before café chains serving lattes and mochas became fashionable in urban India.

indian coffee

After coffee was discovered and when European countries started consuming coffee, it quickly started to become a highly traded commodity by the 17th century. At the time the Indian subcontinent was colonised by the English and French troops, who commissioned coffee cultivation in the most geographically favourable parts of the country.

We know for a fact that in the early days before coffee makers were invented, coffee was extracted in the crudest possible way.

The roasted coffee beans were ground, boiled with water and consumed after allowing the coffee sediments to settle at the bottom (This is how Turkish coffee is prepared even today!). Subsequently somewhere in South India, the Indian Filter Pot was invented to refine the coffee extraction. All coffees made since then using an Indian Filter Pot came to be called Indian Filter Coffee.

What is Chicory and its role in Indian Filter Coffee?

Chicory is a plant that belongs to the dandelion family. The chicory root is what is blended into coffee.

It is rumoured that in the 17th century, when coffee was in short supply, the French and Germans started blending chicory with coffee. Some others believe that chicory was added for its medicinal properties and its use in coffee reduced the caffeine intake.

Whatever the reason, the new coffee turned out to be so flavoursome and popular that the French continued the chicory blend even after coffee became easily available.

The French colonial provinces in India at the time were scattered around the South-eastern coastline, with its capital at present day Pondicherry, a Union Territory of India adjoining Tamil Nadu. One way or another it made its way into the South Indian kitchens.

Even today cafes in New Orleans still serve chicory blended coffee, keeping strong ties with its French history!

Chicory imparts a malty flavour profile and darker shade of brown to the extracted coffee.

Is there a golden coffee to chicory ratio for the best taste?

Taste is subjective. While some people prefer higher chicory content in their coffee, others prefer pure coffee. The type of coffee beans (one bean or bean blend) and its roast profile determines to an extent the amount of chicory added, to get the final flavour profile each maker is trying to achieve. This ratio or recipe is unique to every maker. Our CHAKRAM Indian filter coffee blend uses 20-25% of chicory.

What to expect when a coffee is labelled Indian Filter Coffee?

When you buy ground coffee, what is it that makes it 'Indian filter coffee'? Is it the addition of chicory?

Put simply, most coffees are named after the coffee brewing technique it is most suitable for. Which brings us to the grind size!

add. note: the brewing technique also determines the time the coffee is in contact with water, so accordingly certain coffee roast styles are more suitable for certain brewing techniques.

Roasted coffee beans ground to the size that is most suitable to the Indian Filter Pot is Indian filter coffee as a 'type of coffee blend'.

add. note: Usually finely ground coffee (espresso grind size or sometimes even finer) can be used to brew in an Indian filter pot. As a coffee maker the Indian filter pot is quite forgiving of the grind size. The finer the grind, more flavour gets extracted, but brewing time increases.

The coffee may or may not (Kumbakonam Degree Filter Kaapi) have chicory added to it. Although, generally chicory blended Indian coffee is what most people associate Indian filter coffee with.

Indian Filter Coffee at a Cafe

At a coffee shop or stall, what can you expect if you order Indian filter coffee?

Any coffee brewed using a traditional Indian filter pot can technically be called Indian Filter Coffee. You'll need to ask specifically if the blend has chicory or not.

kaapi pop up cafe