Coffee snobs; Melbourne is full of them, California has them too. This might be a 21st century expression but we've always had them in Chennai. Almost every coffee drinker has strong opinions on the key ingredients that go into making an invigorating tumbler of freshly brewed coffee. There's no room for subtlety here; the coffee 'decoction' is usually strong, the milk is thick and the coffee usually coats your tongue and yet few brews anywhere in the world can match the appeal of a South Indian filter coffee. Contemporary cafes and global coffee chains have all made Chennai home but they are not the first port of call for the city's discerning coffee drinkers. They might work as 'hangouts'. This is a city that takes its coffee very seriously and these are some of the places where the city's coffee aficionados converge:
1. Saravana Bhavan, RK Salai
Chennai wakes up earlier than most other Indian cities. This restaurant is not far from the Marina Beach, a magnet for fitness fanatics and brisk walkers at sunrise, many of whom stopover for their first dose of coffee here. There's no air-conditioning and parking can be a challenge even in the wee hours of the morning but that doesn't keep the regulars away.
RK Salai, Mylapore.(Also read: Is Filter Coffee Losing Its Popularity in South India?)
Mathsya for decades Udupi Home has been one of the flagbearers of Udupi cuisine in the city. Mathysa, the relatively modern version of this institution continues the same tradition. The restaurant is a popular late night hangout, most of its signature dishes are available round the clock including the filter coffee. The restaurant hasn't changed its coffee supplier for decades; one reason why the coffee tastes the same after all these years.
Halls Road, Egmore
3. Madras Coffee House
It's almost a reflex action; I head straight to their kiosk every time I arrive at Chennai's Domestic and International terminals. I'm sure I'm not alone. Madras Coffee House is omnipresent - from food courts at the city's Tech parks to kiosks at malls, and was among the first chains to bring 'grab and go' convenience to filter coffee in Chennai.
4. Sangeetha Restaurant, Adyar
One of Chennai's finest South Indian vegetarian restaurants. Sangeetha just like Saravana Bhavan is now a large chain. The Adyar restaurant is one of its finest; it stays within the confines of the vegetarian restaurant template but is not shy with experimenting the menu that includes millennial-friendly health options like millet dosas. But it doesn't experiment with its filter coffee that never disappoints.
First Main Road, Gandhi Nagar, Adyar
5. Mami Tiffin Stall
It's certainly not easy to find and even tougher to find parking anywhere close to this pokey diner. Located off one of the busy streets near the iconic Kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore, Mami Mess (to most of its regulars) is a popular hub for evening tiffin. It's also one of the best adverts for Vivekananda coffee (the restaurant only serves this brand), one of the city's finest filter coffee brands.
Pitchu Pillai Street, Mylapore
6. Menaka - Palmgrove Hotel
Most diners refer to this restaurant by the name of the hotel it's housed in. Palmgrove is one of the city's older hotels and renowned for its Udupi style cuisine - the restaurant's Mangalore Bondas are a big draw. Old-timers and regulars swear by Palmgrove's filter that is not as thick as some of the versions in other restaurants.
Kodambakkam High Road, Nungambakkam
If you missed trying a quintessential Chennai filter coffee before leaving the city, there's still an option after you pass the Security line at the Chennai airport. ID (also an acronym for Idli Dosai) puts a contemporary spin to South Indian cuisine but the contemporary experience stops with the décor
and the dining experience. The recipes are traditional and the filter coffee is truly refreshing.
Chennai Domestic Airport Terminal and multiple locations
8. Café Mercara Express, ITC Grand Chola:
ITC Grand Chola's breakfast buffet (at the Madras Pavilion) has one of the best South Indian spreads among the city's luxury hotels and also features a filter coffee station. You can order the same filter coffee round the clock at Café; Mercara Express. So whether you need an after meal coffee or a coffee with nibbles between lunch and dinner, or a nightcap, this all-day diner is a great option.
Mount Road, Guindy
About the Author:
Ashwin Rajagopalan is a cross cultural training expert and lifestyle writer. When he's not writing about food, he thinks about gadgets, trends and travel experiences. He enjoys communicating across cultures and borders in his weekday work avatar as a content and editorial consultant for a global major and one of India's only cross cultural trainers.
The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI've discovered cultures, destinations and felt at home in some of the world's most remote corners because of the various meals I've tried that have been prepared with passion. Sometimes they are traditional recipes and at most times they've been audacious reinterpretations by creative chefs. I might not cook often but when I do, I imagine I'm in a cookery show set - matching measuring bowls, et all!