They are hard to miss while on a road journey from Chennai to any place down south in the State along National Highway (NH)-45. While many of them have sprung up recently, a few have been in existence for more than 15 years. They are the multitude of Kumbakonam ‘degree’ coffee outlets that lie adjoining the highway, tempting many a traveller to savour the beverage. In fact, the craze for degree coffee along the NH-45 can be gauged from the fact that even small tea stalls along the highway indicate in their name boards that degree coffee is available.
Estimates by stall owners peg the number of such stalls between Chennai and Villupuram at 20 over a distance of 145 km. To the uninitiated, degree coffee is coffee at its purest. Which means, the coffee powder used in it would not contain chicory - a substance traditionally used for blending. Even the milk used would have a higher fat content.
As the name indicates, the coffee beans are sourced from Kumbakonam. Explains Umarani, proprietor of a degree coffee stall on the Tiruchy by-pass road in Villupuram: “Purity and authenticity are essential. Serving the steaming hot coffee in brass tumblers and dabaras (saucer-like containers) imparts a flavour that cannot be replicated.” The coffee, she says, is prepared impromptu so that it does not taste stale. She runs a franchise that markets the coffee.
In another sign of changing taste among the tribe of coffee connoisseurs, the proprietor of a coffee store in Chennai concurs that the preference for degree coffee is on the rise. “Now, many buyers are specific on the percentage of chicory that needs to be included.”
However, a common grouse among such stall owners is that the brand name is rampantly misused. Umarani is pained that every other shop selling tea/ coffee claims to be selling degree coffee. “Perhaps a trademark would help,” she said.