Bombay to the tea
As the city gears to celebrate International Tea Day on December 15, we pick the best places to sip on a cuppa
Caste, class, religion, and gender - chai has transcended all. In its ubiquitousness, the universally loved beverage is perhaps the only symbolism of an equal society; treating the single-origin-tea-loving intellectual from Pedder Road and the clay-pot-cha-sipping rickshaw puller from North Kolkata, the same. With time, the tea-drinking diaspora, too, has evolved and a highly aware set of patrons have emerged therein. For this sect, even chamomile is passé. But the education around tea began long ago.
At a time when Mumbai's tea culture was still largely dominated by cutting chai, with a few exceptions who ironically were importing Indian tea from England, ad man and director Prahlad Kakar and his team renovated the Tea Centre inside Resham Bhavan, in the late 1990s, such that it became a nucleus of stars and journalists alike.
Patrons at Tea Centre
"We were one of the first people in the city to introduce a tea tasting room where 16 varieties of India's best teas were on offer. They were loose teas from gardens and they were seasonal," he recalls, going on to explain the difference between a first flush (tea leaves plucked soon after monsoon), second flush (the plucking that occurs a few months after the first cycle and regarded the best variety), and the third flush (the last cycle that takes place months after monsoon when the weather is relatively dry). "Like wine, teas, too, have good and bad years," he adds.
But for Kakar, his time at the iconic chai-adda, that drew in the city's creme de la crème, was less about the tannins in the chai and more about the charcha. "I remember Shashi Kapoor coming in pretty often. When Tea Board of India reached out to me to renovate the place [because footfalls weren't as expected] I wanted to do something exciting with it. We placed a baby grand [piano] in the middle and whoever played it for 30 minutes would get a free cup," he shares. And even as Kakar's and Tea Centre's memories stand relegated to the pages of a history book you will probably find in Kitab Khana nearby, a new class of tea houses have emerged to please the connoisseur in you.
One pea in a cup
A newly launched salon comes with the promise of quality, and natural flavours and blends. "One of the unique variants much loved by our tea lovers is blue pea flower. The liquor tea is great for the heart and keeps your skin glowing. It is a caffeine-free herbal tea, or tisane, made from the leaves of the clitoria ternatea plant and dried lemongrass," says Snigdha Manchanda, head sommelier at the tea house, adding that it makes for a great iced tea, too, when served cold with a squeeze of lime.
TIME: 8.30 am to 10 pm; 4 pm to 7 pm (high tea experience)
AT: The House of Tea Salon, Foodhall, Santacruz West.
COST: Rs 250 (pot for one); Rs 350 (pot for two); Rs 58,000 (per kg)
Between the cup and the lip
During a heritage walk inside The Taj Mahal Palace, we learnt of an urban legend regarding the café inside. It turns out that the space has an invisible Cupid and a couch that has been lucky for lovebirds, with many meetings ending in a happy wedlock.
AT: Sea Lounge, Apollo Bunder.
The silver lining
AN exquisite variant of white tea from China that seems to be gaining currency is silver needle, and at this cafe, patrons love it, too. "The tea is widely admired for its delicate appearance and elegant sweetness.
It has to be plucked on the very same day that it grows," says Jiten Sheth, a certified tea blender and sommelier at the eatery, adding, "Good silver needle tea is individually plucked and harvested only during springtime. We have sourced ours from the first region to grow it, Fujian in China."
TIME: 9 am to 12 am
AT: Tasse de The, 87, Chapel Road, Bandra West.
COST: Rs 217 (150 ml); Rs 267 (250 ml); Rs 477 (375 ml)
From paradise itself
Gregory Bazire, chef at a popular Bandra joint, says that the Kashmir saffron blend is the closest to his heart. "Not being a native of India, I have always found the spices here extremely exotic and continue to extensively use them in my creations. Saffron, particularly, is one of the most expensive spices from India. Apart from its health benefits, it also adds the most subtle flavour and hue to any dish. Combining it with tea adds a rich flavour to the drink and it is a crowd favourite," he shares.
TIME: 7.30 am to 11.30 pm
AT: Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea House, St John Baptist Road, Bandra West.
COST: Rs 210
At a Bandra tea café, the spiced guava tea is a hit among patrons. For the drink, high-grown black teas from selected gardens are combined with notes of guava pulp and Indian spices, making it a unique combination of fruit, masala and chai.
TIME: 9.30 am to 12.30 pm
AT: The XVII Tea Room, Pali Hill.
Chai pe charcha
Kyani & Co
AT: Marine Lines.
Kala Ghoda Cafe
Wagh Bakri Tea Lounge
AT: Vile Parle East.
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