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Story of Indian Tea

 

Coming from India, known for its teas, what could be my preferred beverage in France- a land known for its wine and coffee culture ? At times, I have been torn between my loyalty for tea and being seduced by the aromas of espressos in an inexplicable sort of way.

 

Tea Service


 

In India, I had been so used to drinking tea that it is fairly easy to loose count of the cups one has had. Many a time, I have joked that tea runs through my veins ! It is not an exaggeration given that I can drink tea morning, evening, day in or day out, without batting an eyelid. Thus, for me, tea drinking has transcended the 'fixed hour' dedicated to the ritual of enjoying it in a 'civilized' world.

I have seen tea being served at all hours in India whether receiving guests at home or visitors at work. So much so that it has come to be a social norm to offer tea to someone, without which, one risks being considered inhospitable. This does not, by extension, mean that we Indians are an over-caffeinated people. If some statistics are to be believed, the Japanese drink more than twice as much tea as Indians.

The other day, while receiving some Russian guests, it was brought to my notice that the tea available in Russia comes largely from the India tea gardens. That does not surprise me. India is the largest producer of tea in the world. Even after taking care of the daily dose of caffeine, for its denizens like me, it is still able to export half of its total tea yield.

 

(the photo here is of the 'Tea counter' in Galleries Lafayette, Paris during Christmas from a couple of years back. The very fact of being able to choose from such a different variety is a tea afficionado's delight. Aptly titled 'Route des Th├ęs des Indes'- Route of Indian Teas)

India Tea sold at Galleries LaFayette


I don't remember when did I get it into the habit of drinking tea. Given that I do not really fancy milk, I assume that it must have been fairly around the turn of first decade of my life. Ever since, I have not looked back.

Vada Paav served with a 'Cutting Chai'

A turning point in my tea drinking came with the counsel of a dear friend who had been trying, at that time, to cultivate the taste for tea 'as it is'. This meant having tea without cream and sugar- a direct deviation from the Indian syrupy Chai. There is perhaps no other place where one can find tea boiled with milk, sugar and spices.

(this photo is from Bombay. This is Vada-Paav- a Mumbai specialty- deep fried potato dumplings, served here with 'Cutting Chai'. Cutting Chai is Mumbai's version of a Chai glass half full ! If this is half, then we don't need a non-cutting chai, do we?!)

 

 

India is quite well known for its black teas though there are green and oolong as well. A strong cuppa Assam, drained without milk, is an acquired taste to the uninitiated palate. It did take me a while to get used to drinking tea 'as it is' but I am glad to have found the pleasures of enjoying tea as nature intended us to.

 

Tea drinking is a part of life in most parts of Asia especially among the tea producing nations- India, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, Taiwan, Indonesia etc.

 

(on the right is a photo from a rustic Dhaba in Shimla. The man was very conscious of being photographed. But he did make a nice cuppa masala Chai. It was around 7 AM, he was about settling down but agreed to make it at the cost of having his Dhaba filled up with smoke)


 

Chai in a rustic Dhaba

 

Afternoon tea at Taj Mahal Hotel

(A contrast to the above picture- an afternoon tea as enjoyed with nibblers and pastries at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay)

 

For me, tea is a past time- I can drink it when I am bored and I can gulp it when I am overexcited. Though the pleasure derived out of relishing a book in stillness around me, with a nice, golden cup of Assam, has few equals.

 

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