A Degree of Taste: Kumbakonam Degree Coffee
Though some visitors who arrived expecting to read Tomato Rice recipe, left quickly with the expression of a woman unwittingly opening the door of a men’s room to find a man with his pants down, many others have admitted to having rolled on the floor, clutching their gut – laughing, they say, but I don’t know, maybe my posts triggered a sudden bowel movement.
But it all starts with the name.
A few months back, I was passing through double road off the CMH road in Indira Nagar and this board caught my eyes. A cheerful kudumi (knotted lock of hair at the back) Iyer with a hot cup of something saying cheers. Not whiskey, certainly – he doesn’t look like a drinking type, I thought. Careful reading said it is:
Kumbakonam Degree Coffee
Coffee, it is.
It wouldn’t have stayed with me had it been just ‘Kumbakonam Coffee’, but the ‘Degree’ in it added a certain degree of intrigue to the whole name. A quick check in Google told me it is a kind of traditional filter coffee made using freshly churned and undiluted cow’s milk. The word ‘Degree’ comes from the process of testing the milk for its purity. Lactometer, the instrument used to check the richness of milk, has markings like a thermometer and therefore the word degree is used to call the markings.
If a lactometer sinks up to the mark (or degree) ‘M’ mentioned at lactometer, it means the milk is pure. It is assumed Kudumi Iyer’s lactometer always floated at degree M. Basically, the story is, Kudumi Iyer simply used the freshest and purest milk to make his filter coffee. According to records, Iyer ran to his cow shed three times a day.
On a side track, I wonder whether there’s a W (for water) marking on the lactometer as well. #NandiniMilk
Of late, I have seen many KDC (Kumbakonam Degree Coffee) shops on the highways outside Bangalore, but a chance to wrap my hands on a cup of Degree Coffee, eluded me by 50 degrees to the North, always.
The chance came. My sister and brother-in-law were in town last weekend and we landed in Indira Nagar via metro. The original plan was to book a cab from Indira Nagar to home, but when we couldn’t find a suitable cab within ten minutes pick-up time in Ola Cabs, we decided to check out KDC.
It’s a quaint little place on the double road towards BDA Complex and Punjab National bank. Before opening the door I leaned sideways to check if there’s a cow shed behind the shop. There isn’t.
And then, as I went in through the door, I was expecting to hear a pure Tamil-speaking Iyer welcoming us in his usual ‘Vango, vango’ style, instead, I stood facing two men, appeared to be from North India, shaking their heads and speaking something in Hindi.
What? Hindi in a Tamil shop! In Tamil Nadu, this is enough for a communal riot.
I pressed ahead in Tamil, thinking they may know Tamil despite their appearance.
“Tamil nahi pata. Hindi.”
I nahi pata Hindi (!!) Now, that’s a brick wall in front of me.
My sister intervened. She is a Madhyama pass. I’m a Pratamik fail.
She spoke to them. But my Pratamik level of knowledge was enough to understand that there’s bad news. No, they weren’t telling the cow they hide in their fridge is dead.
The shop is closed for the day. They only work from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm.
We told them we had come all the way from the other side of the city just for their coffee. They wouldn’t budge.
Then my sister came up with an ultimate softener.
“Can you give me just a spoon-full of your coffee, to have a taste of it?”
The two men looked at us, their shoulders hunched, and then at each other.
“Ok, sit, all of you, we will make coffee for you”
By this time two more male customers and a family had also sneaked in through the half-open door and the place was almost full.
I went through the menu. In Bangalore, I’m always confused about the sizes of coffee. Large, Medium and Small depends on the owner’s fantasy. In Barista a large coffee is big enough to take bath in it and in some other places, large is a 4-inch cup and small is a 2-inch cup. KDC has two sizes – Large and Medium. Large is Rs.30 and Medium is Rs.20. I ordered Large. For 30Rs they cannot afford to give a pint mug of Coffee.
The Coffee arrived after 10 minutes. Just a 4-inch cup. Fair enough.
Apparently, the old tradition of using freshly churned milk for coffee died with Kudumi Iyer (that explains why there’s no cowshed behind the shop) because it is not a feasible idea anymore, and the current version is only an imitation (with W degree milk, perhaps).
What do I think about the coffee?
Actually, I can hardly tell a coffee from a tea. For me, everything that goes down my food pipe tastes the same unless it is awfully bad. This KDC was tasteless to me, that means it isn’t bad. But my bro-in-law says it’s one of the best coffees he has ever had, so it must be very good.
In the end, we couldn’t thank those two guys enough. I took several photos of them, and I plan to give them copies of their photo next time I visit.
Degree Coffee is a cherished tradition of South India, and in KDC Indira Nagar, it is safe in the hands of two North Indians.
chanced upon a KDC in the outskirts of Chennai recently.. .Thanks to you i could brag and impress my husband with my knowledge on KDC and coffee in general.. although not a coffee person he was excited (as every peace loving husband does in such situation)… and indeed the coffee was impressive….