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Tea Time

Tea Time in IndiaDespite the fabulous teas that we grow— India, after all, is the world’s largest producer and exporter of tea in the world—it is shocking to come across such poorly prepared cuppas in most homes. Thanks to my work with a (high society type) magazine, I have been visiting some of the poshest (and costliest) homes in the country these days. But truth is that the tea that is brought out by “house managers” (as domestic helps in super-affluent India now seem to be getting dubbed) and such is, without exception, terrible. And it doesn’t even matter whether these people are those with old money or new.

The tea that is served in their homes is the same milky (sometimes with a layer of “malai” that forms on overbrewed tea), sweet concoction that you will find on the streets. In fact, at least on the streets, the masala chai, tastes better—for whatever reason: whether it is the fact that you are having it with street food, or that the vendor uses his special masala of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon…. In affluent homes, on the other hand, it is some disinterested kitchen staff, on the other hand, that mechanically goes through the notions of boiling the leaves (till they are destroyed) with milk and sugar and serving up the brew to unsuspecting guests. And I really wonder why do people who can afford to live in a Rs 190 crore (Rs 1900 million or almost 20 million USD) house on Prithviraj Road not afford to buy proper full leaf Darjeeling tea for themselves and their guests?

Most of the tea that most of us in India buy for our homes, is of course, not the expensive full-leaf tea from the slopes of the Himalayas in North-East India. Instead, we make do with the dust or cuttings. On the other hand, there are a few people who are very particular about the kind they make and serve. My mother, for instance, does not let any one else make tea for her and always follows the same ritual of making a thin brew with the best quality of tea leaves (of course, not the super expensive white needles but a full leaf tea with aroma that she blends herself with a more potent robust one to add the colour.

The ritual she follows is thus: 1. Boil water, 2. Add a little milk and let it reach boiling point too, 3. Now once the water + milk mix is on the boil, 4. add ¾ teaspoon of tea leaves per cup, 5. Take the pot off the fire, cover the tea and let it stand for 2 min; serve.

In the meanwhile, let me tell you about the restaurants in Delhi where you can have an immaculate cup of Darjeeling—and others.

1. Blanco: This chic eatery at Khan Market has long been one of my favourites. After a meal, don’t ask for coffee, instead, settle for a lovely tea service. The cups are gleaming white and the Darjeeling superb.

2. The Park coffee shop: Considering that the Apeejay Group that also owns the hotel has interests in tea estates, it is but natural to find some great tea in their restaurants. Cha Bar, literally tea bar, with an Oxford book store, at Connaugh Place is also owned by them.

3. Tea and coffee lounge at the Shangri-la hotel in Janpath: They used to bring a sand clock to time the number of minutes your tea was brewing. I don’t know whether they still do. But still a nice place for a meeting.

4. Segafredo Zanetti: The Italian espresso chain is now in India. It opened just a couple of days ago, and surprisingly it is the tea that I will go back there for. The Indian promoters who have got the brand into the country under a franchising agreement, have made their own concoctions of flavoured tea. I particularly liked what they call “Arabic mint”, which is mint fresh though there’s nothing Arabic about it. At Ambience Mall in Gurgaon.

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