Growing up in a region of West Bengal that’s known for tea cultivation, I was always astonished by the tea plants that looked awesome after the heavy rain. But by that time the concept of green teas or the sheer romance of drinking tea hadn’t captured my imagination.
But tea culture is certainly not only limited to green tea. The British Empire suffused its own interpretation of tea to its dominions and colonies including regions that today comprise the states of India which had ethnic existing tea customs. I am truly fascinated by the flavours of tea in different regions – black, green or oolong. The temperature and strength of the tea likewise varies widely. Kolkata being once the capital of the British era, has an oriental feeling when it comes to drinking tea, and I profess that drinking a cup of tea served in a grand teapot in the Oxford Book house on the great Park Street of Kolkata will remind you of the time-honoured grandiosity of tea drinking in the British era. It is also incredibly interesting that there are two shops in New Market (earlier known as Hogg Market) that have been selling tea making accoutrements and quality snack food to be taken with tea, for more than a century. Finally, such a culture is not limited only to Kolkata.Even in cities like Bhubaneshwar, I have seen that there are tea vendors, who specialise in the sale of ritzy tea leaves, pots and other related paraphernalia.
In Srinagar & in the Kashmiri ethnicity, tea is an object of connoisseurship and etiquette. The extravagance of elite tea parties in Kashir (the way denizens calls Kashmir) can be compared to modern wine tastings of Europe. As much as in modern wine tastings, emphasis is given to the proper vessel. Butter, milk, and salt are added to brewed tea and churned to form a hot drink over here. But strangely teas are sold at lower prices (at least half the price as compared to the price of tea sold in Delhi or any metros) and ready mix versions of the great Namkeen Chai and Shahi Qawah are imported. I picked up a bottle of this ready-mix tea but it was markedly different as compared to the traditional Qawah tea, which I had in my host Aamir Malik Hassan’s house.
This monsoon my journey was imbibed with the Portuguese culture in Old Goa and apart from local liquor (known as Feni and made from cashew nuts), tea drinking is highly valued here today.The patterned holding bowl and tea mixture were often lauded in the period with phrases such as "partridge in swirling clouds" and tea in this region was enjoyed more for its patterns and less for its flavour. But when it comes to tea drinking patterns, I am more lured by the legends of Chinese tea drinking where smaller bowls with understated designs on the interiors were preferred over the cups.
In our country tea is popular all over as a breakfast & evening drink and almost all the tea consumed is black Indian tea, CTC (crush, tear & curl) variety. Darjeeling tea is still known in our country but less is known about Assam tea and Nilgiri tea. In fact, Assam produces the largest quantity of tea in India, mostly of the CTC variety, and is one of the biggest suppliers of major international brands. But I will talk more about Assam tea in my next article.