Raise a toast to tea

May 12, 2014, 09:22 IST | Soma Das

The book, Chai — The Experience of Indian Tea, is packed with insights into the historical and cultural significance of the much-loved beverage. Peppered with photographs of the tea heartlands, it's a collector's delight on the pan-Indian tea culture, tea varieties, the processes involved and the people associated with it

For those who can’t do without their daily cuppa, this will come as great news. Chai — The Experience of Indian Tea, by Rekha Sarin and Ranjan Kapoor, takes readers on a tea trail spanning the length and breadth of the country, and across time spans.

The Experience of Indian Tea
A tea estate in Assam. Pic courtesy/ Chai, niyogi books

The book highlights India’s tea culture, its picturesque tea estates, the life cycle of a tea plant, the processes involved, tea tasting and auctions, the popularity and history of tea around the world and features quick recipes.

The Experience of Indian Tea
Established in 1868, the Darjeeling Planters’ Club was considered the epitome of high society

Speaking about the book, Rekha Sarin, who is also a freelance writer and contributing editor, says her romance with tea began when she walked into a store in Delhi to buy it as a gift for her German guests.

The aromas and flavours she sampled overwhelmed her. “There are varied regions in India that give rise to innumerable varieties of tea. The romance of history and the colourful culture from each of these regions adds another dimension to these teas,” she explains.

The Experience of Indian Tea

Sarin approached her friend Ranjan Kapoor who is an award-winning photographer, to shoot the images for the book.

Sarin gathered the necessary information by visiting libraries like the National Archives of India and the India Office Section of the British Library in London. She also interviewed planters and attended tea samplings to learn about the flavours of teas. Sarin and Kapoor travelled to almost all the tea regions for the book, as well.

The Experience of Indian Tea
Scottish missionary and Anglo-Indian schools were set up by British planters in Darjeeling and some exist even today 

The book spans Dibrugarh, the original homeland of tea in Assam, the offices of J Thomas & Company, the oldest auctioneering house in the world, and covers the tea trail from Darjeeling and Kangra Valley to South India commencing from Cochin, going through Munnar to Ooty and Connoor. Overall, the book took almost six years of hard work.

The Experience of Indian Tea

Summing up the need for Chai, Sarin says, “This subject is timeless in its appeal.”
Chai’s international launch was in London on May 1, since as Sarin explains, the book has a global audience.

Did you know?
>> The word ‘TIPS’ means To Insure Prompt Service. Customers at English tea gardens raised little flags on their tables inscribed with the same to attract service.

The Experience of Indian Tea
The Anglican Church of St. Andrew’s in Darjeeling dates back to 1943. Its early worshippers included tea planters.

>> Tea became popular in England after the Great Plague of 1665 in London as it involved the boiling of water in its preparation, and so it warded off possibilities of infection.

>> The tea plant grows to a height of 10 feet and is in fact, a tree!

The Experience of Indian Tea
Exquisite teaware from a private collection 

>> Scotsman Robert Fortune went disguised as a Chinaman to China in 1852, to collect the finest tea plants and planted 20,000 of these in Darjeeling when the British were trying to set up tea plantations in India.

The Experience of Indian Tea
Chai -- The Experience of Indian Tea, Rekha Sarin and Rajan Kapoor, Niyogi Books, R1,995. Available at leading bookstores.

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