To me, good filter coffee bought from a store with a Western sounding name is an oxymoron. It is not to be trusted because you see, these brands proffer everything from cold-brew to pour-over. Filter coffee for them is also-ran: something that they add on.
It is not the focus. Give me a Panduranga Coffee anyday, couriered straight from Chikmagalur. Failing that, give me Cothas coffee with 15% chicory.
I love the Black Baza, a bird found in the Northeast but please, I don’t want this in coffee. Nor do I want sleepy owls, flying squirrels, or the blue tokai (feathers) of a peacock. I don’t want to slay coffee or rage with it; or even surf the third wave.
Araku sounds like arachu, which means grind in Tamil. I like it in ‘nellikai’ or amla, not in coffee. I may like Cafe L’Orange later in the day, but in the morning, I want coffee served in silence in glass cups like at the Airlines Hotel. And I definitely don’t want waiters who show up every minute and ask me if I like my coffee.
How do I like my coffee? I like it the way I have always had it. The way my mother gave it to me. Sans questions, sans interrogations, sans lecture about grind and source. Just give it to me already, why don’t you? And please don’t go on about single-blends because we Indians who drink filter coffee already know one inescapable fact: single blends don’t work in filter coffee. Blended coffee is the way to go. Medium roast also doesn’t work in filter coffee, beloved as it is with the “aroma police” of coffee who disdain dark roasts because it kills aroma, according to them. But medium roast in coffee means that the decoction won’t be dark, which creates a whole assembly-line of problems. If the decoction isn’t dark, the coffee will look milky, not dark brown even with a little milk. It won’t taste strong because the milk flavour will dominate. Medium roast just does not work for filter coffee.
Single estate coffee has specific contours and flavour profiles that may suit black coffee but when you pour hot milk on it, the decoction gains an unpleasant edge like day-old wet-laundry. In order to make good filter coffee, you need the magic ingredient called chicory, either 15% or 20%, depending on how thick you like your coffee. And you need frothing that comes from two hands, two tumblers and a precise wrist.
My taste in filter coffee is a result of what was served at home in Chennai. Isn’t this true for all of us? You know what the best part is? Amongst filter coffee drinkers in traditional Chennai or Bangalore homes, there is consistency of taste, a uniform flavour profile that you could bank on. Once you did the due diligence on which house serves good coffee, you can go back time and again with no unpleasant surprises. This is because good filter coffee relies on more than one factor for perfection. The decoction has to be of a certain thickness. Too thick and you need to add more milk which makes the coffee too gooey. The milk makes all the difference. It has to be frothy and hot. This will conceal many of the inherent flaws in milk. Sugar is according to taste, but I use the golden rule. Add just enough sugar to reduce the bitterness without messing with the taste.
Good filter coffee is not about provenance. It is about proportion. Write that on your sign. Hang it around your neck.
So all these jokers who wax poetic about their coffee being grown in such-and-such hills, surrounded by wild elephants don’t know what they are talking about. As for the Kopi Luwak beans that are eaten by the Asian palm civet which then excretes these beans, thus making them the most expensive coffee in the world, well, all I can say is that I have tasted it and it is shit coffee, quite literally.