How to Make the Perfect Cup of Filter Coffee

In What Would Nigella Do we explore the basics of cooking and being comfortable in a kitchen. The title is a hat-tip to our favourite home cook who approaches cooking with resourcefulness, practicality, and most importantly, a sense of humour. Although this is a series that may appear to be directed at beginners alone, it is also for that cook who makes the perfect pavlova, but never seems to get that pot of rice right. In the time of MasterChef and molecular gastronomy, we are sometimes a little sheepish to ask the seemingly obvious questions. When faced with such a dilemma, we ask ourselves, What Would Nigella Do?

There are few things in life that I feel as strongly about as South Indian filter coffee. I discovered my love for it rather late, when I moved back home after college and no longer had a Dunkin Donuts outlet down the road. At the risk of losing all credibility in the second line of this article, I will admit that Hazelnut Cold Coffee was an obsession at the time, once even walking through a snowstorm to get my fix.

When I moved back home to Kerala, where 'coffee' usually refers to the milky instant variety, I decided to take matters into my own hands and learn how to make proper South Indian filter coffee. I picked up a filter soon after and proceeded to make the most exceptionally vile coffee I’d ever tasted. It was then that it struck me to search online for instructions, but I found very by way of help. Which is partly the inspiration for this piece today.

Fast-forward to a few years later, I was still making mediocre coffee, this time in my aeropress. But it didn’t matter as much, because all I had to do for a good cup of coffee was walk down the street to the nearest Adayar Ananda Bhavan. However, on a fateful day two months ago, I accompanied my aunt on a work visit where we were given an exceptional cup of coffee. The lovely lady who made it patiently answered all my questions while I took notes.

Here’s what I uncovered: 3 tablespoons of finely ground coffee powder with 3/4th cup water makes decoction perfect for one cup of medium-strong coffee. It is traditional to use coffee that has chicory, but if you prefer your coffee chicory-free, that’s okay too.

Start by assembling the filter and adding 3 tablespoons of finely ground coffee powder to it. A word on coffee powder: In the past, I have been that annoying person who earnestly grinds fresh beans every morning, but let me tell you, the best coffee I’ve made is from store-bought coffee powder that I keep in an airtight container on my counter – not even in the freezer. I’ve discovered that Sri Suma Coffee Works here in Bengaluru makes a PB Blend that has a caramel-ly aroma perfect for filter coffee.

Level the coffee powder, and using the umbrella-like press, firmly push down on the powder. The traditional way to proceed is to pour the hot water gently along the stem of the press, but I prefer to remove it before pouring water. This makes the water seep through the coffee faster while still ensuring that the decoction is strong enough for my taste.  The game changer for me was realizing that the burnt taste that I so detest in my coffee came from pouring boiling water over the ground coffee. Waiting for a minute before adding the water makes all the difference. Heat milk with sugar in a saucepan and add the decoction to this. Pour the coffee back and forth between saucepan and cup to cool it down while simultaneously aerating it.

The video below walks you through the steps, and you will never ever have to drink another sorry cup of coffee in your life.


Aysha Tanya is the co-founder of Goya Media. When not working at Goya, she enjoys reading and marvelling at the wide range of mustard types available in the supermarket.