Tea, known by various names like, te(French), cha(bangle),chaha(Oriya), chai(Hindi), shai(Arabic),is prepared in many ways. The following are popular varieties:
There is the spiced concoction popular in places around Shimla, in which, undiluted(unskimmed:)) milk is boiled with cardamom, cinnamon and cloves and simmered after adding the leaves, to make the most delightful matka of thick, malaidar, chai. In regions around Assam, Darjeeling and West Bengal, the leaves -hand-picked and processed with so much affection, their aromas preserved with so much care - are brewed in piping hot water. The liquor is then strained and served with slight sugar and a dash of milk. The result is a brick coloured, thin liquid with the most exquisite flavour.
Then there is the Sulaimani, which the Arbabs in the Middle East, drink while smoking the hookah, over a game of dominoes. Leaves from Iran brewed just till the concoction obtains the color of honey, lemon zest added for that freshness. Ahh...Bliss!
Known for its anti-ageing properties, the tea has come a long way down the civilations in and around the Indian Subcontinent. An object of cultural importance in Japan and China, tea has become an inseparable part of the lives of most Indians too. Let's see how.
Chai-shy. But why?
There is that class of people who say, "No thank you, I don't drink tea."
You blink at these words for 5 seconds and want to say, "You must be from Mars (or America :p)" but all you say is a nonchalant "ok."
The sadist that you are, you carry your mug of aromatic Earl Grey tea (with a slight dash of milk!) along with a jar of Parle-G or Nice biscuits, and sit innocently beside your friend.
"Sip, Dip, aah", while your friend looks at you from the corner of her eyes. The devil grins maliciously inside. "Na kahoge to pachtaoge." (You'll regret if you refuse)
My fondest memories date back to my childhood. Dr.Chaubey, a friend of my father, used to visit us sometimes. A sweet gentleman of very few words, Chaubey chacha would, strangely, rise to leave just 20 minutes after his arrival (we never understood what the urgency used to be, considering that Mrs. Chaubey hadn't arrived yet in his life).
"Dak Sahab, aise kaise jaiega, jal paan kiye bina?" My father would coax with friendly niceties.
(How can you leave without having anything?)
This would be followed by a bark and loud orders for my mother, for tea which also obviously implied 'and snacks'. The ‘jal-paan’ (which literally translates to ‘drinking water’ and is meant to refresh guests who are tired after travelling) in India is an important part of hospitality and has always been exaggerated this way.
A flurry of activity inside the inner chambers; my brother slipping through the back door on the urgent errand, my mother in the kitchen, brewing the most exotic tea. 10 minutes later, I would carry a tray laden with hot samosas, jalebis and a pot of hot Tea, of course. The addition of Tea to the elaborate Indian ‘jal-paan’ is one of the greatest contributions of the British Raj according to me.