Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Magic of Dabara Coffee

There's something about Indian coffee, and I mean South Indian filter coffee, that is out of this world. Perhaps it's the chicory, perhaps it's the dabara and "tumbler" in which the coffee is traditionally served, perhaps it's the big-bubbled froth (not the smooth kind of the lattes and cappucinos) swaying precariously at the edge of the tumbler, or perhaps it's just intense nostalgia for the way things used to be back in the day.

Growing up, coffee was always consumed in a dabara and tumbler at home. Mugs, cups and saucers came when I was well into my teens and even then we used it only to drink tea. A decade or two ago restaurants also regularly served coffee in dabaras and tumblers, only in the last few years changing over to just the tumblers, which seem to get tinier and tinier by the day.

And of course, dabara coffee is always made in the coffee filter, the mainstay of many a South Indian kitchen.

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Coffee Filter

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Coffee Filter Parts

Automatic coffee makers were unheard of. French presses are still very rare, and the percolator made a quiet entrance and an equally quiet exit.

These days every home that I go to seems to have an automatic coffee maker, its gurgling, bubbling sounds replacing the "thottu, thottu" sound of the coffee filter as the decoction made its way down from the top compartment to the lower receptacle.

After years of consuming coffee made in coffee makers sans the chicory, the first order of business when we moved to India and set up a home was to go buy a coffee filter. I bought the biggest size, so big that even my parents laughed. "Why do you need such a big filter for two people?" they asked. I didn't have a clue. The filter seemed capable of putting out just enough decoction to fill two of those huge mugs that we had gotten used to drinking coffee in. Of course, that same amount of decoction would be enough for more than five people if they were served coffee in dabaras. I had lost all sense of proportion.

Although I vaguely knew the steps involved, having never actually made coffee in a filter before, I was totally hopeless when it came to figuring out the ratio of water to coffee powder. There are many variables involved, as my dad expounds passionately: the proportion of the coffee powder to chicory in your mix (I steadily made my way up, from 10% to 25% to 35% chicory), how strong the decoction is, what kind of milk you use (whether the ready to use kind out of a carton, or Nandini/Heritage/Tirumala milk that needs to be boiled first), how old the decoction is, when the milk was boiled, whether the decoction and milk were boiled together, etc.

After months of trial and coaching by my dad, during which I gave up many times when the end result was not even an approximation of the coffee of my memories, I finally hit upon the right formula - freshly made strong decoction (which must make the "thottu, thottu" sound as it collects, drop by drop, in the receptacle); freshly boiled Nandini/Heritage/Tirumala milk; the two mixed together in the tumbler, i.e., never boiled together; the milk poured into the tumbler from as great a height as you can manage to generate the froth; the tumbler placed in the dabara, and sugar added to taste. The brand of coffee doesn't actually make that big of a difference.

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Coffee in a Dabara and Tumbler

The results are excellent, even though I do say so myself. Just the right color, consistency and taste.

Update: My mom just told me that the dabara set in the photo is nearly 40 years old! It was part of her wedding gift from her parents.


Unknown said...

I thgt it was called Davara.
Can u please check it up.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Hey Satish, thanks for your comment. In my family it is called dabara with a 'b'. I believe there are some areas of Tamil Nadu where it is pronounced davara. Do you know the origin of the word, by any chance? Would be intresting to find out.

Chakra said...

We too call it 'davara'.

that was a nice post indeed. I have got myself a coffee filter here (in London) and everytime when I prepare the filter coffee in a stainless steel tumbler-davara, I realise that I haven't got it right... may be, it has to do with the right powder.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Hi Chakra, thanks.

I realized that fresh just-made coffee, just-boiled milk and not boiling them together does really help a lot. Also try to get coffee powder with chicory in it. That makes a big difference to the taste. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

HMMM, Suj,
Ah there's nothing to beat a good filter coffee. It is my petrol! When I first moved to UK, I used to 'import' the podi from Madras! Now I have sorted through the stuff we get here and have got my powder right. I use a perculator and the aroma that comes when I switch it on - aiyo! No words can describe it.
We call it davara too - and I shall ask the athai-paati about its origin. Coffee tastes comp diff when it is sipped from mugs. Starbucks - yech!
Long live filter coffee!
ps: Cool kitche - lovely blinds!

DesiGirl (cannot login from work!)

Anonymous said...

It's that intense smell/fragrance....Starbucks coffee cannot match it.

All those coffeemakers you see nowadays in India is because they offer it free with any durable purchase! My parents were telling me they got one free with their new fridge. The coffee maker occupies pride of place in my parents' home, along with other unused durables such as the vacuum cleaner, and the food processer.

Your filter is su'b'er shiny, BTW :)

Unknown said...

hi sujatha,
I think its called Davara cofee coz its normally drunk in a davara :), the deeper version of saucers :))

Sujatha Bagal said...

Hi DG, never got used to those percolators. Yeah, long live filter coffee!

Anjali, just wait until Starbucks discovers chicory. :) And yeah, polished that filter for the photo. :))

Satish, so there is a tamil word called davara that means deeper saucer? Hmmm, interesting.

Anonymous said...

The filter looks like One I used when I lived in Europe I have to say it was some of the best coffee I have ever drank. I started doing some workout routine and some Yoga so I shyed away from coffee for awhile ,but now have started to drink it again in moderation. But I am now looking for a new filter like I used to have and this one looks so much like it. Do you know where I could get one of these dabara filters?

Anonymous said...

"dabara" coffee tastes better without chicory. [chicory is cheap substitute to coffee to get a slightly brown color...] a good coffee is one without chicory and it costs slightly more than the blend.
what adds to the taste:
- fresh boiled milk -boiled separately)
- fresh decoction (coffee extract- from fresh ground coffee beans!!

Tabbie said...

hi have been looking for one just like that one. willing to pay are you saling it?

Unknown said...

Excellent, you have left me thirsting for filter coffee. What is the proportion of coffee powder and water you put in the filter?

Many thanks,

Unknown said...

Excellent, you have now left me thirsting for filter coffee. What is the proportion of coffee powder and water that must be added to the filter?

Many thanks in advance,

Sujatha Bagal said...

Hi Sohini,

The proportions depend on how strong you like your coffee and a bit of trial and error is involved. I don't know how large the filter is and so I'm taking a wild guess - about 4 tsps of coffee powder and then pour boiling water up to the circular indent near the top (after you place the plate with the holes and the long handle firmly on the coffee powder). I hope this works. Let me know! Thanks for reading.