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Origin of Kaapi

Origin of Kaapi

Synonymous with a South Indian home is a coffee filter. The filter helps derive the 'decoction' to be used to form the delicious milky beverage known as filter coffee, a staple in many homes and restaurants.

So, what is filter coffee and how did it come about to be so popular in South India?

The British introduced a coffee-chicory essence in the late 18th century called Camp Coffee and over time South Indians started warming to it, albeit after the addition of milk and sugar. This was mainly the case in most households of the south, in response to the high tea-drinking rate elsewhere in the country.

The unique thing, at least for South Indians about Camp Coffee was the addition of chicory root, a bitter tasting substance itself that is ground together with coffee.

The practice of blending coffee with chicory is reported to have started in France in the early 1800s as a result of a shortage of coffee. As chicory has a similar flavour to coffee without any caffeine, it was mixed together with coffee to make dwindling supplies stretch and on occasions, as full substitutes. 

After being introduced in India, the process of adding chicory to coffee took hold and an amount of between 20% to 45% chicory became common. Benefits of chicory for the coffee drinker were found to be plenty such as:

  • Improving digestion – the inulin in chicory is a probiotic that eases many intestinal and digestive issues, such as heartburn or reflux and constipation.
  • Antioxidant properties – according to the 2011 study, ‘Phytotherapy research’, chicory can help combat thrombosis and inflammation.
  • Nourishment – the chicory root contains vitamins C, K, choline and beta caretone, allowing you to boost your intake of these nutrients with your morning coffee.

Coffee is brewed using a coffee filter which has two cylinders. The top one containing pin-prick holes and this is where the coffee powder, pre-mixed with chicory is placed under a pressing disk and boiling water poured over it. The idea is for the 'decoction' to drip down from the top cylinder, through the tiny pin-prick holes into the bottom cylinder.

The decoction that settles in the bottom cylinder is mixed with milk and sugar and voila - there is your traditional filter coffee (or 'kaapi' as it is pronounced in South India).

By Lakshmi Singh

Lakshmi is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in Sydney, Australia. She writes across a range of sectors including technology, business, lifestyle and health. Her work has been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Sunday Telegraph.

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