Wednesday, 27 June 2012

All my tea…

A major part of childhood was spent with my maternal grandparents. Thanks to the two months long vacations every year, Ma undergoing a surgery and a second pregnancy. For most children, dadu-bari (nana-bari) is a place of unadulterated and endless mollycoddling. No exceptions here.
Like all Bengali households, there would be several tea sessions with friends and relatives and I would consistently insist in carrying empty cups to the washbasin once tea was over and guests were gone. (Yes. Grandparents valued granddaughter’s pleadings more than bone-china cup sets). I remember this one clearly, even though I was barely 6 or 7 then. I will explain. Once tea was over, I would peep into the empty cups. Well, the almost–empty cups. You must have noticed that people drink tea and leave the last sip in the cup itself (why??). Sometimes it would be a few drops, sometimes a gulp. But it would be there…always, unfailingly. And I would look here and there, see if anyone’s noticing and drink that leftover. Leftover tea from cups often used by almost-strangers. That was fun! (20 times more than the first taste of alcohol or the first ring of a cigarette, I tell you). Tea was a forbidden territory for children of my age and drinking ‘eyto’ (ort) was a sin then, now and for all times. If Ma reads this, she would want to wash my whole system RIGHT NOW with DETTOL.
And that was the beginning of an unfaltering love story. With tea. A staunch tea addict that I am, “cha-hunga mein tujhe sham savere” continues to be my national anthem. Pardon me for the horrible joke and lets get down to the real point.
It is said that no one knows their cup of tea better than a Calcuttan. Well, tell me one thing the Calcuttans are not best at!! (dripping sarcasm).  I quite agree however to the tea part. With the city’s close proximity to Darjeeling and Assam, it is quite understandable, no? Being a hopeless aficionado, I choose to babble about my favourite flavours and aromas and not exactly baato gyaan on tea, tea-testing, tea-tasting and other platonic stuff.
I love milk tea. Period. And “office-para footpath tea” tops the chart. It’s not the milk that you put in the tea. It’s the tea that you put in the milk that makes it blissful. Staunch Darjeeling tea-fans would stop reading the post right now. Well, please excuse me then. I am a roadside tea fanatic. Milk, sugar and water mixed in the right proportion and tea added once in a while. I said “once in a while”, because they recycle the same tea atleast 50 times in the day. They don’t use strainers, they use old cloth. Squeeze out the last brown drop (like ICICI loan-recovery team) and again put the same chai-patta into the tumbler and make it boil. And yet, you would sit on those half-broken wooden benches and enjoy your cups (read ‘bhhanr’) with delight. The terracotta cups in which tea is served has a thin film of dry earth which gets combined with the tea and so does the smell of the kerosene stove. What makes office-para tea so heavenly is those glass jars filled with One-Rupee bakery biscuits (which Calcuttans affectionately refer to as biskoot) and Barua Bakery cakes (also called tiffin-cakes). The fun is, you can open the bottles on your own without the tea-seller’s permission, take out biscuits of your choice, dip them and eat. Oh yes, drinking tea from these stalls and not dip the biscuits in the tea is a crime.

Once in a while, depending on bad moods, headaches and work pressure, you ask the tea-seller to add a pinch of ginger or cardamom into the tea to make it stronger. The aroma is orgasmic.  
The tea stalls are humble, often based under a plastic canopy to ward of elements and crow-blessings. It would invariably have an owner who would sit the whole day making tea and a below-14-years-old-Chotu to carry tea to various offices. He would also fit in a Ram-Sita or Hanumanji picture and an agarbati with obnoxious smell. A radio unknowingly attracts more customers, but as I said, he is oblivious of such marketing stunts.

Office-area tea is also served in these white bone-china cups. People whose sole source of sustenance in office para is tea (accompanied by quarter pound breads), know the subtle difference between ‘bhharer cha’ and tea served in these white cups. This is the more sophisticated kind, a little more expensive (5 rupees instead of 3) and is served on bone-china plates. In a hurry, office-goers pour their tea in those plates and drink it directly therefrom. And the ‘slurp’ sound!! A very common sight in Dalhousie, High Court area and Deckers Lane, agree?

It would be immoral not to mention the quarter pound breads here. As Bongs say it ‘Cha–er sathe Ta’ is a must. In moments of leisure (which Bongs have in plenty), one rupee biscuits are replaced by breads, buttered or jammed. People don’t spare these breads from dipping into the tea, as well. (Replace ‘people’ with a first person, singular number ;))
Since I am talking about tea from the office localities, I might as well mention quickly about the tea served from vending machines in our respective offices. I love the froth, the creamy effect and the cardamom and elaichi flavours. Froth reminds me, when you gulp office tea, you have moustaches!! Tea-lovers get perennially pissed off with such tea. Great glory is attached to coffee from vending machines while foamy tea is looked down upon with utmost disgust. I choose to take its side. Selflessly.
The same taste of mota-cha can be enjoyed in trains and railway platforms, na?

That’s Assam Tea for you. Sinewy, robust and conventional…with milk and sugar. What is a downpour without such tea and pakoras? Its light bodied Darjeeling brethren does not match its standards when you are sitting on your window sill and enjoying the pitter-patter…atleast for the first person, singular number I referred to. :)
And for recommendations. As a good Samaritan it is my duty to enlighten you about one or two favourite tea joints in Kolkata. The twin tea joints of Sharma and Balwant Singh beside the Harish Mukherjee Road Gurudwara (near Elgin Road crossing). Well, I made up that ‘twin’ part. They are very close to each other, almost on each other’s sides, I stand corrected. Sharma Tea Shop serves the typically thick Assam tea and I would recommend a breakfast to follow. Kachuri with dal, alu-sabzi and hot gulabjamun is sinfully mouthwatering. Try it. Same for Balwant Singh Dhaba. Other than their “world-famous in Calcutta” Doodh-Cola in plastic jugs, they also serve amazing tea. You would gladly part away with 10 bucks for a cup, once you’ve tasted it.
The second joint is Dolly’s. Tucked in one corner of Dakshinapon Shopping Complex in South Kolkata it is THE perfect place for aficionados like us (and chatterboxes too). You can finish one cup of tea in an hour. No time limit. It is infested with college students, lovers, antels (Bong intellectuals) and the like. It is tiny and cosy with walls paneled with old tea-chests. What marks it different from other tea-joints, is, it sells a huge variety of teas by kilos, ranging from a modest 400 rupees per kg to 10,000 rupees per kg. The other interesting part is that it is one of those rare places that serve these teas by a small cup allowing you to play a tea-tester/taster and convince yourself with your purchase. Try the Makaibari Oolong, Darjeeling Autumn, Makaibari Silvertips. Oolong is treated with great reverence for its aroma and it is considered a crime to put add milk and sugar in it. Darjeeling teas, fail to excite me so for me, Dolly’s is all about iced tea and their endless variety. Iced tea with a scoop of icecream, orange, watermelon, peach flavoured iced teas are considered juvenile but that’s my kind of poison.

Back to the pavement story, the roadside tea-sellers not only sell their tea for a minuscule 3 rupees, but the glasses, as well. So you get a full set for merely eighteen bucks. I tell you, keep such a set at home. On days of downpours and addas, use this set instead of an expensive Luminarc or Correlle one. And for the tea, get one of those quirky painted kettles. (I will tell you where to get it, unless you paint it yourself). This accentuated with pakoras (read ‘telebhaja’) makes the whole experience magical.
I am being told, “Avoid milk tea. It’s fattening”. Well, all good things are. Chocolates, S**, Alcohol. Do I need to bother? Mallika Sherawat does not have my brains; I might as well spare her a good figure. Hmm?
[photo sources: mostly internet]


  1. Take a bow, the author; the brainy temptress, to do this AGAIN when i am back! i am sharing this on fb for my friends to read! AWESOME remains an under expression...

    1. i am blushing, seriously. u just know how to make it special swagata majumdar. tons of love

    2. You are awesome Parama Ghosh... reading what you write is always a delight. Much Love... likhe jaa :)

  2. Replies
    1. thank u so much. feel inspired to write more. thanks again

  3. Your childhood secret is one of the most horrifying yet sweet confessions i have ever heard. Great title, great write up, great insight, not to mention the light you throw on tea, life and Calcutta, all in one package makes it an exciting read. I too believe there is no pain that cannot be numbed even if slightly by a cup of tea. Keep drinking :)

    1. thank you so much. eito comment korte perechish. so far as the childhood confession goes, a friend of mine said she used to do the same with alcohol glasses after guests were gone. compared to her i seem to be a 'deb-sishu' ;)

  4. A wonderful write up yet again..loved it!
    Knowing you, am not surprised that your love for the "forbidden" started much early in life. ;)
    I missed the mention of your favorite "tea-glass-holders" though.. and a pic of your favorite "cha-wala"..
    You just keep impressing me with your words..and yourself.
    A cup of your favorite "mota-cha" shall await you when we meet next.
    Cha khao..likhe jao..
    Much love..!

    1. ha ha. i loved the "love for the forbidden" part. bang on!
      favourite tea-seller is absconding. he has gone to bihar forever i think. i actually thought of taking his picture.
      will have mota cha once we meet. for sure. hugs

  5. Anonumous...that was me.. Banhea

  6. Darun!! love all your posts...keep it up!!

    1. thank you so much, have a very unusual name!

    2. yes indeed...but as someone said.. "whats in a name" :P :P
      i read ur recent post- I WISH
      just awesome. could connect to most of it :)
      keep goin...

  7. Cha-liye jao guru......'mostly internet' keno????nijer tola kichhu hole signature koro....bhalo lagbe.....

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