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Not my cup of tea! In search of the perfect brew
In my search for that cheering morning cuppa chai, I have finally found a comrade in arms, Chetan Bhagat.

In a recent article, 'Where is our chai?' in Times of India, he rues the fact that good old tea, as lovingly brewed at home, is just not available in public places in India. Even at our fancy airports, tea is poured out from steaming automats, just like Espresso coffee! Hot water served in a paper cup and a tea dip-dip bag, is not our idea of the 'cup that cheers'!

Reading the piece, it stirred a storm in my tea cup of memories and about the mystique and art of serving tea. Not knowing where to start, I think its safe enough to start with our Modiji. Having broadcast his humble origins as the vendor of tea at a railway station, Modiji has brought modicum of respectability to that noble profession. While travelling all wrapped up in winter clothing, the sound of 'garam chai! garam chai!' emanating from the railway platform, was the most reassuring and steamy wakeup call! Not only during winters, but even during summers, the railway platforms of my childhood carried posters of India Tea Board, 'Garmi mein garam chai, thandak pahunchati hai'! I believe them!

Modiji is a trend setter. Whether it is his sartorial style, or his 'chai pe charcha', the nation follows. Any number of WhatsApp groups, styling themselves as 'Chai pe charcha' have sprung up. My wife is also a member one such group. This august group shares everything from forwards to patriotic videos to recipes. My only grouse is, that no one is discussing the art of making that perpetually boiling brew, served at railway platforms, with that earthy aroma (sondhi khusbu) of the humble kulhar.

When George Fernandez became a Central minister, he established his desi credentials, by riding on a cycle to the Secretariat and ordering the railways to serve tea on trains in kulhars, instead of disposable paper cups. This would have been a boon for country's potters. Somehow because of problems of logistics, costing, uniform quality and quantity and picking up kulhars along the railway tracks, were issues which derailed the project. Then came Nitish Kumar and Lalu with similar toasts to the kulharki chai, but the beverage with that sondhi khusbu seems to be evading the travelling public. In 2016, Western Railway has again instructed the caterers to serve tea in kulhars, aboard the moving trains.Not sure what became of it!

We pride in being a nation where 'Unity in Diversity' is our hallmark. Here too, under the banner of 'Tea', our astonishing country offers a bewildering variety of chais. As a part of the desi wave sweeping our country, in our neighbourhood a classy desi tea boutique has opened its doors. In authentic kulhads or clay cups and tea saucers, it offers:

'Saffron masala chai, cinnamon green, lemon and mint green, gulab ilaichi, Kangra masala, honey ginger lemon, aam papad chai and Kashmiri kahwa.'

The 'honey ginger lemon chai' was also my grandmother's recipe to tide over the vicissitudes of North's biting winters. To complete the tea map of India, there is also Ladakh's salty butter tea made from yak's milk butter, needs to be borne in mind.

As a bachelor when I arrived in Mumbai, tea wise I was spanning continents. On one hand, I learned from local friends that to live frugally on our starting salary, one should rely on the city's mouth watering street foods. And to wash the stuff down, one partook of 'cutting chai'. It was just half a cup of strong masala tea with cardamom. The other option was to order '2/3 tea': that is two cups of tea, shared in three cups!

From the cutting tea of the streets, to being a paying guest with an Irish lady residing in Belvedere Court opposite Oval, was a different world. A remnant of the Raj!

Every morning, a butler in white came to our bedroom with a tray. The tray had an embroidered table cloth, with laced frills. There sat a tea pot covered with a tea cosy. A Victorian tea strainer, a milk pot and a sugar bowl. Our landlady used the choicest Darjeeling brews, with just a delicate whiff of the aroma of the distant rolling green tea gardens of the East.

According to the British Tea Board, first milk should be poured into the empty cup, and then slowing the boiling tea water should be poured into the cup. If done the other way around, the milk gets scalded and that's not cricket!

Having roamed through the enchanted world of the green rolling tea gardens in the East, Nilgiris and Sri Lanka one can say that they are such a soothing balm for chaotic and claustrophobic urban soul! In their factories one sees how the 'two leaves and a bud' are brought in huge baskets by the toiling lady pickers. Those earmarked as Green Tea are just dried in the shade. For Black Tea the leaves go through to the process of curling, tear and curling, known as CTC. At the end of the line, you have tea tasters who are paid a bomb, for tasting hundred cups of tea every day!

Due to the widespread popularity of tea in India, one would imagine that tea had already been named as our national beverage. That was not to be, according to a write up, Amul put up a strong case for naming milk as the national beverage. "Milk is the world's original energy drink for all age groups and for all healthy nations," said the managing director of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation.

He adds, "There is no need to declare anything. Everybody knows milk is the national drink. Nobody in India has declared chapati and rice as the national meal but they are."

The above remark was in response to salvo fired by the Tea brigade: 'The push to declare tea as the national drink of India by April 17, 2013 would coincide with the 212th birth anniversary of the first Assamese tea planter and Sepoy Mutiny leader Maniram Dewan. He was among the first indigenous tea planters in the county.

"Tea is a common man's beverage and the cost of a cup of Amul milk is more than double the cost of a cup of tea", North East Tea Association's Chairman said. The Chairman of Assam Tea Planter's Association said that tea is the cheapest beverage in the world after water and is the second largest employer of the organized sector after Indian Railways.'

The Padmavati controversy has caused enough of confusion in the country, so I feel that we should just let the Tea Board and Amul battle it out in the democratic arena of the market place!

Having lived in the South for 13 years, we cannot ignore the fact that their filter coffee also has its dedicated votaries. Making filter coffee also has its own mystique and a magical aroma, which can be sensed blocks away!

So choose your beverage: Coffee, tea or milk!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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