Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I am in the middle of the latest book by Alexander McCall Smith in his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS. McCall Smith says in the book, "The telling of a story, like virtually everything in this life, was always made all the easier by a cup of tea."

This delightfully languid series features the 'traditionally-built' (oh, what a lovely excuse for obesity!) detective-of-life's-little-problems and dispenser-of-wise-wand-warm-solutions, Mma Precious Ramotswe, and her assistant,the much-more-rigid Mma Grace Makutsi. Both of them drink plentiful cups of tea throughout the day, with Mma Ramotswe preferring the red bush tea (lovely forest-y name, don't you think?).

When McCall Smith praises the virtues of tea as a nerves-soother,temper-calmer, tongue-loosener, soul-refresher,camaraderie-builder, feel-gooder, most of us in India would echo, "How true".

Tea, perhaps, unites more people than any religion does. But, just as religions divide themselves into factions and sects and whatnots, tea is also divided into a number of different categories - of colour, cut and method-of-preparation.

We grew up knowing that there were two 'best' kinds of tea - the Assam variety and the Darjeeling variety - and, being parochial, fond-of-debates-at-the-drop-of-a-hat Bengalis, we vociferously championed the Darjeeling variety (never mind if Shubhas Ghising and his Gorkhaland cronies were trying to chuck Bengalis out of Darjeeling). A good cup of tea was made by adding the aromatic leaves of Darjeeling tea to just-boiling-water, taking it off the gas/stove, letting it soak for a while, and adding sugar and/or milk only if you liked it that way. True tea connoisseurs preferred not to let anything dilute the taste and fragrance of tea, sniffing in the aroma deeply and pleasurably and closing their eyes in ecstasy before taking the first sip of the elixir.

What a culture shock when I shifted to Mumbai! Here the most-loved cuppa is the one which is boiled with large amounts of milk till possibly nothing remains of the distinctive tea-aroma. To add to the sacrilege (from the Bengali point of view), people often add things like adrak (ginger) and elaichi (cardamom) to the over-bolied concoction! And the resultant muddy, thickish liquid is gulped down with relish, either the whole cup, or half-a-cup (the cutely named 'cutting' chai).

And coffee, the hot 'South-Indian filter coffee', is a SERIOUS CONTENDER to the supremacy of tea! Coffee, for most Bengalis, is a diversion-drink, to be taken in fancy bone-china mugs (coffee MUST be served in mugs, tea in CUPS, or so we were told) when guests drop in, especially in winter. It is emphatically NOT a dozens-of-time-a-day-drink-of-sustenance, for Bengalis at least.

And as for the new-fangled entrants like green tea, and herbal tea, all true-tea-addicted Bengalis will say, "Jatto shob! (Bosh!!). We'd rather believe in ANTI-CAPITALISM than in ANTI-OXIDANTS, you see. Tea is for pure pleasure, health-issues are completely secondary.

Not to take sides on the tea-vs-coffee debate, let me confess that I am a tea-totaller. I DO NOT DRINK TEA and I DO NOT DRINK COFFEE. Not the hot varieties, anyway. I like my tea cold, with lemon, or with ice-cream (they did a great job of that at Dolly's in Dakshinapan, the tea-boutique in Kolkata). And when I go to Barista, or Cafe Coffee Day, I have my frappe or my latte ice-cold (but no chocolate, please). And if there is fresh-lime-soda (or jaljira or nimbu-paani) I'll opt for that!

I guess that makes me a FREAK in the eyes of most tea/coffee/both- addicted Indians.What's your brew?


Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

*sigh*...I was a tea addict, being a true blue bengali. And, then along came my husband with his filtered coffee and lately, espresso machine, and now, I drink coffee speciale everyday!
oh, and yes, the Chinese dangled their green tea before my eyes along with its miraculous health benefits (coz it tastes like nothing on earth) and that got me hooked too!!

Have you read Two cups of Tea?!

Nona said...

After reading your post, I realized I am a Bengali. Yes, I love tea and can have it all day long. But as for the taste, I love the Mumbaiya tea. :)

Nice post.

June Saville said...

We have a tea plantation not far from me - not common in Australia. Their product makes a lovely cup.

For a change I like to have peppermint tea made out of leaves from my very own herb garden. Yum.

Babli said...

Thanks for your lovely comment.
Beautiful post.I am very much fond of tea and prefer tea to coffee thats why another reason that I liked your post so much.

Ankit said...

I was a super tea addict. BUt lately I have lost the taste as I don't have the time and company to enjoy the sips of tea.

There was a time when I didn't leave the house without having a cup of tea, but now that's gone. I don't like having anything hot tea or coffee.

And yes when I really liked it, it was super boiled muddy water like cutting chai...

Ugich Konitari said...

What I like is actually a function of when and what part of my life.
...Steaming hot adrak elaichi chai (made by my grandmother), designed to shake you out of a stupor and get you to study at 4 am for your school boards.
...Strong cups of coffee made at unearthly hours in the college hostel with roomates , and consumed with much mirth.
... Fragrant spicy tea served in earthenware stuff, early morning by people on the tracks, as the Puri-Kolkatta train stopped somewhere an hour away from Kolkatta....
.....Cutting chai in the monsoon in Mumbai
.....Filter Coffee absolutely anytime
.....My first cuppa in the morning, Bru coffee.
....At all other times Limbupani reigns supreme. I can have it endlessly. :-)

I kind of suspect all these Starbucks,Mocha and CCD of trying to make a mountain out of a mountain. You cant do that. For that you must have a mole hill.

Priya said...

hehehe....varieties of tea and coffee served...i too prefer the "cooler" version of either of the two...Green tea I like. "Mumbaiya tea" is good when weather is "cooler", which is a rare experience in Mumbai. At Dolly's i like the experimental beverages served with various concoctions of syrups and tea...When its Barista, any Frappe is more than enough to quench my thirst along with friends and a good adda.... :D

SGD said...

Sucharita...I am a Bong no doubt, but as per your tea/coffee related definition, I am a TRUE BLUE Bong!! ;)))

I love my Darjeeling Tea....and would go to any extreme of this city in search of my 'Green Label'!!
And yes...for me, (HOT) coffee is the occasional drink! But I LOVE the authentic south indian filter coffeee too....the aroma intoxicates me...well almost! ;)

magiceye said...

you must try out the 'paani kum chai' at orogonal Irani restaurants of mumbai!

Sayani said...

you are absolutely right Tea unites us more than anything :)
I am morning tea addict , I dont regain ma sense until i have a cup :)

PURN!MA said...

yes I agree that tea binds better than religion. I'm a coffee freak..but at home. Yes in western parts (read Maharashtra, Mumbai, Pune etc) Tea is highly sweetened that you feel ur having liquid barfi. :) But personally, I enjoy the roadside cutting on rainy days, with adrak, less mild, midly sweet.

PURN!MA said...

I meant *less Milk*

Lazyani said...

For me, it's tea all the way. The morning cup at the office is like an old fashioned siren calling everyone to work.
The evening cup is the evening siren signalling the end of day at work.
In between are the endless cups used for refreshment, for argument, for discussion, for wasting time or even for wooing by some.

manju said...

Sucharita, nice post! Tea v/s coffee- this is the ultimate debate!

I do drink tea, but only under duress!

Coffee is my poison.:)

Pradip Biswas said...

I worked in Sikkim and Darjeeling for Landslide problems and became a tea addict then. Our local guides used to bring fresh tea leaves and some other herb keaves from the gardens we used to passby and it was put in huge flasks. After each traverse in the landslide area the tea poured from the flasks with little sugar used to wash away the tiring traverse of the whole team. Few people left brandy after drinking this tea. I never found any tea like that.

Swaram said...

Such a sweet post. I lovvee filter coffee and chai for me is always reserved for the evening with biscuits. Though I don't drink either daily, the day does not begin for the others in my family without coffee. My sis has it even when she gets up at unearthly hours for studies. Life begins with coffee!

sujata said...

I love tea the tru bong way but am too lazy to make it, so i stick to my hot mug of coffee with a heaped spoon of nescafe, a qtr spoon or no milk and a half tspoon of sugar, really hot and really bitter..but i love it that way!!

Sumandebray said...

You do get that (gholi huiyi) variety of tea in Kolkata as well. At the college first gate stall tea + Milk + sugar went on boiling. Our favorite dialogue used to be “koto lomba?” meaning koto fut(lo) …
Now it is usually tea without milk and sugar

Aparna said...

I am a Bengali all the way Sucharita. Pure Darjeeling.Brewed not too strong, not too light. Just a little sugar. No milk. Then for five minutes I simply savour the aroma. Then start taking small sips. I like to nurse my tea. Then reading the morning newspaper along with it....pure heaven.

lopamudra said...

I cannot imagine beginning my day without 'tea' and I need a cup at 4:30 pm.Coffee is for winter nights.TEA RULES!! but adding cardamom et al is sacrilege or rather in my dad's words "chai'er mangsho" which is undesirable.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Dear All,

Sorry that I am addressing you together, but it is fascinating for a non-tea-coffee-drinker like me to read all your comments about your personal preferences....it is almost like standing at the gates of heaven and peeking in at the debate of the angels....do carry on, I am completely hooked to this debate.

Anonymous said...

Alexander McCall Smith?:))))
I love those books too!:))
delightfully languid is the right word:)))

ah!tea! :)))
for someone who is not a tea/coffee drinker you have captured the essence damn well!:)))
I am a pucca chai addict:))
gimme my hug 5 cuppas a day and I will die happy:))
I can wake up in the middle of the night of you tell me you have a cup of chai ready:)))

I love filter kaapi too :D
but a chai?
bliss forever!:)))

Mervat said...

I am definitely a Bengali-Aussie then. I love my tea black and lightly sweetened, thank you. However, I do love my coffee and don't mind the odd cup of chai...made with soy milk as I am lactose- intolerant!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Like McCallSmith? You are my kinda gal!

Thanks for visiting! But soy milk sounds rather ominous to me!

Mystic Margarita said...

Must have missed this post. I love McCall Smith, too! And I prefer tea over coffee.

ZiLliOnBiG said...

humm, as refreshing as a tea, I have just had very few times but Darjeeling tea is as delectable as its famed. But is it had with milk? its very delicate, isnt it? I thought its always had black

Lemme ask one thing, how do you manage this? I mean, two blogs which you update back to back. Harried 24/7 mother of two, a hubby, a job, reading avidly. Probably your next post should be about it. Probably we all could buy few tips from yu. Thnaks:))

Sucharita Sarkar said...

@ MysticM,
I KNEW you'd love McCall Smith. Karmic connection, what?

@ Zillionbig,
No big secret, only sacrifice of sleep.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I'd prefer a cup of tea when I am really really tired and need to freshen up. Mumbaiya Ishtyle please....

Hubby likes it light and black with the leaves still floating in it...no sugar, no milk....(as you can see...I hate it)..Makes it himself... ;-)

I love a cup(or mug as you put it) of coffee while watching a movie after dinner. Hubby sticks to tea...his Ishtyle.. ;-(

Sucharita Sarkar said...

That's the sign of a true caffeine lover!