Taster's Choice: Art of Making South Indian Filter Coffee in USA

This is my long pending  post and today is the best day to write about making coffee because today(September 29) is "NATIONAL COFFEE DAY".  I owe a big cup of coffee to that person who coined this day.  Coffee making is a cinch.  Since coffee is my cup of coffee, I've dragged this post too much.  And this post is for people outside India that don't get good coffee powder but get good coffee grinder. Before I get into the "making", I thank

    My grandmother for passing the coffee gene to  us.
    My father from whom I learned the art of making strong coffee.
    My mother/mother-in-law for handing me the coffee as soon as I brush my teeth.
    My sisters who never compete with me for strong coffee.
    My family friend Latha Rajan for introducing me the Coffee Grinder.
    My cousin Krithiga for introducing awesome coffee powder "Cafe Bustelo".

My friends wanted me to write the exact method that I follow to make coffee.  Let's see the "things"needed for that exact method:

Coffee Grinder
Coffee Powder(Of course)
Tumbler & Dabara

Coffee Grinder:   Coffee powder we get here in the U.S.A doesn't work for filters. You've to grind   again to make into a fine powder. Buy a coffee grinder(nope, the grinders in the stores wont work for our filter coffee) and don't use the grinder for grinding masalas. You don't want your coffee to smell sambar.  Yuck!!.For the record, I have broken more than 4 coffee grinders.  Fault is not mine.  Every coffee grinder out there, comes with a breakable plastic lid.  That is business tactics.  The lid will invariably fell on the floor.  The beauty here is the lid won't go into pieces.  The lid will seem intact,only a tiny piece will be missing from the lid.  Without that tiny piece you cannot close the grinder.  Without closing the grinder, you cannot grind. So hit the store get another coffee grinder. It so happens I will drop the lid around 9.30 p.m (the time I used to grind coffee) and will make a sound "Oh-Oh".  My husband on hearing the "Oh-Oh" call at 9.30 p.m., will get into his shoes saying "I'm going to Walmart".  (Nowadays I grind in the afternoon only, to be on the safer side). A month back we got (rather my husband got) "Mr. Coffee" coffee grinder.  This is the best of all grinders that I used because the grinding jar is big.  You get to grind more coffee seeds than other grinders.  I had "Hamilton Beach Hands Free" grinder.  Even that served good for some 1 year before it was laid to rest.

 Coffee Seeds/Powder: Seeds/powder you've to grind.  Cafe Bustelo is the best of all coffee powders that I've ever tasted.  Earlier only Spanish stores were carrying Cafe  Bustelo.  Now it is available in almost all American Grocery.  But Cafe Bustelo is pricey.  If you are everyday coffee drinker like us, Cafe Bustelo won't work out.  If not, you can indulge in Bustelo. For starters, buy store brand coffee powder(it will be cheaper,in the making you may waste some) from your local grocery.  Once you get the hang of making coffee, you can graduate to branded coffee powders. For everyday coffee drinkers, Costco is the only source. We buy house blend from there, you can buy anything you want.  Fill the grinder with seeds/powder and grind nicely.  The ultimate yield should neither be  coarse as pepper powder nor be  smooth as baby powder.  If the powder is too coarse, your decoction will be watery.  If the  powder is too smooth, your decoction will be powdery. You get Narasus Coffee and Kothas in Indian stores.  Narasus is too pricey, Kothas is too chicory.

Coffee Filter: I never used American coffee maker  I have Indian Coffee maker but I won't use.  Coffee maker is for the crowd.  Also, I believe my coffee tastes better when brewed in filter.   I  have filter in all sizes(S,M,L) and I'm planning to start an new hobby "Filter Collection"!! Filter is a must for good strong coffee.  No ifs and buts.

Tumbler & Dabara:   Tumbler you know.  What is this dabara(ड ब रा )?  Dabara is a vessel used to swoosh the coffee.  Coffee is swooshed back and forth between tumbler and dabara , to get foam and to  make the sugar dissolve.  Too much back and forth, your coffee will become cold.  If you don't have the dabara, you can use another tumbler as well.  Sky won't fall down.

Now let's make decoction

Coffee Powder - 8 teaspoons
Water - 3/4 cup

(This measure is for the filter size pictured above and yields roughly 60 ml of decoction.  You can make 2&1/2 cups of coffee).

Before Patting
After patting
 Boil 3/4cup of water in a pan.  Add 8 teaspoons of grounded coffee powder to the top compartment of the filter(that has holes) .  Shake the filter so that the powder settles down.  Now with your fingers pat the coffee powder gently to make the sides even. Place this holed container on top of the non-holed one.  When the water comes to a rolling boil, remove from the fire, pour the water in a circular fashion, only on the sides of the filter.  If you pour in the middle, a dent will be formed in the coffee powder and you won't get good decoction.  Allow 30 minutes for the decoction to collect in the bottom container.  After 30 minutes (check the bottom container to) see the status of your decoction.   You may get three types of decoction.
1)Watery decoction - You might not have pressed the coffee powder properly.  Since the coffee powder is not tightly packed, as soon as you poured the water, the coffee powder would've yielded way to the water immediately.  The water should seep through the powder.  You can't do anything with the decoction other than draining down the drain.
2)No decoction at all -  You might have over pressed the powder.  There wouldn't have been any way for the water to seep through.  You might still see the water in the holed container.  In this case, use a fork and gently pierce the coffee powder here and there.  Don't over do it.  Within minutes if you hear the water  dripping, rest assured your piercing is working well.  If not,……..down the drain only.

3)Perfect decoction -  The decoction will be all brown and you won't see any water in it.

Final Step: Making of Coffee

Milk - 200 ml
           Since our decoction is strong, use 1% milk.  If you use fat-rich milk 
           you will taste the milk.  Do not use  organic milk either.           
           If you use skim milk you will taste the decoction. 
           Our goal is to taste the coffee. 
           Regular 1% milk will give you best results.
Sugar - 1&1/4 tspn - You will taste the bitterness of coffee.
             1&1/2 tspn - Perfect
             2 tspn - O.K.
             >2 tspn - Are we making coffee kheer here?
Decoction - 1/4th cup

(Do not heat the decoction in any way.  It will lose its taste and flavor.  Instead heat  your milk how much ever you want).  

Boil the milk in a pan.  Meanwhile take the decoction in a tumbler add your required amount of sugar.  Swoosh the mixture between tumbler and dabara till the decoction gets frothy.  When the milk reaches its boiling point, remove from the fire, move the cream aside with your mouth and pour the milk on top of the decoction.  (Leave the cream to the pan only). Again swoosh the mixture for couple of times.  (don't overdo this, your coffee will become cold and you will taste only froth). Now your coffee is ready to hit your palate.

(I use decaf in the afternoon since caffeine is not my thing after 1 p.m. Same procedure.  Get seeds from Costco, grind and make.  You can't tell any difference between decaf and regular.  Again Cafe Bustelo is the best for decaf too.)

If you've any doubts, please don't ask me!!I'm better off giving you a cup of coffee than clearing your doubts.  Come to think of it, as a part of "National Coffee Day", coffee chains are offering free coffee to its customers.  To honor the day, I'll also offer free coffee to my friends and family.  Bring your own milk and sugar.


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  2. Very informative blog. From where can I get coffe maker.

    1. Thanks for your comment. If you are asking about electric coffee maker, it will be available with any vessel merchants in South India , same goes for coffee filter too. I don't have any clue where you can get a coffee maker outside South India.

  3. Sujatha,
    Thanks for the info. Very nice of you to spend time explaining stuff.

    I got the aeropress from Amazon. I'll see if I can get as close as possible in making the Indian type filter coffee. I am in the process of figuring out the right coffee mix that tickles my taste buds. I'll try out the house blend from costco, but I think I need to add some desci stuff (Narasus/Kothas) to get the Indian touch. During my next trip to SouthIndia, I will try to get something from over there to make it more desi...Wish me luck.

    If the aerobie (link below) fails, I will resort to buying the steel coffee maker.

    I chose aerobie as it gives me less maintenance. I can do my coffee at home or work and not worry about spending lot of washing/cleaning time.



  4. All the best Arvind. Hope you find that coffee that tickles your taste bud!!

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  7. Awesome..now I dont have to drag the coffee powder from India and drink it when my parents come!1 hahaha..this is awesome..I order tim hortons coffee powder so maybe I can powder it and try to make it...thanks for blog:)

    Fellow coffee nerd!!

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  10. Hi, Have you tried below coffee powders to see if they are a close match to South Indian Filter coffee?
    1. Costco Kirkland Colombian Supremo Dark Roast
    2. Starbucks Sumatra Dark Roast + Ethiopian Sidamo region coffee any brand (1:1 ratio)
    3. Costco Mayorga Organic Café Cubano
    4. Starbucks Houseblend Dark Roast + Kirkland Colombian Dark Supremo

  11. Dear Sujatha, Could you pls let me what consistency I should grind? I am planning to grind it in store itself. Also Kirland (medium or dark roast) , cafe de bustelo is also bean or powder?

    1. Hi Meena, The consistency should be in between rava and talcum powder. Also I never used store coffee grinding machine . Therefore I dont know whether you will get the correct consistency. Kirkland is medium roast seeds. Cafe bustelo is powder.

  12. Which flavor I need to pick for cafe bustelo? I see many on amazon. Anything specific?.

    1. The yellow and red one. Espresso ground coffee.

  13. hello Sujatha..
    its wonderful way to make coffee, although I am not South Indian myself , I love how rich it tastes after following your recipe !! I found steel coffee maker like you have shown in picture on amazon ! and yay cheers to wonderful coffee !!