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Chai Kahani / The Story Of Tea

There is one such magical drink which will warm you up, if you feel cold; cool you down, if you feel warm; add to your happiness, if you are happy; cheer you up, if you are sad. You guessed it right – tea is just not a beverage; it is an emotion that rules every mood, house, office, canteen, occasion – be it a condolence meet, someone’s marriage, kitty party, spicy gossip, breakup, proposal or a get together. Meetings become warmer and conversations juicier.

Our mornings begin with a cup of tea and for the majority of us, ends in a similar fashion. In fact, tea seems to be the ultimate solution to all our problems and difficulties in life. It supports us through thick and thin like a true companion. Where there is no tea, there is no hope, solution, taste, catching up, warmth or Chai Pe Charcha. Just as one cannot imagine a railway platform without tea sellers or Chaiwallas shouting Chai Garam, similarly a train journey cannot end without a steaming cup of tea. For me like many others, happiness lies in a cup of tea. Every sip inspires me to take that single step towards a journey of hundred miles and beautiful destinations. In fact, my thirst for tea took me to the lands of tea plucking, namely, Darjeeling and Munnar.

Sipping Tea in Munnar

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I had heard my mother praise the beauty of tea gardens over and over again, but to be standing in front of one of them was definitely a dream come true for me. The roads twisted and turned as we climbed up the slopes which seemed to be uniformly covered with a green blanket by Mother Nature – certainly a welcome respite from the heat and dust of the city below.

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The next morning, I woke up at sunrise to witness a hundred miracles taking place all at once. The darkness was being dispelled by a spec of light growing bigger by the minute ushering in purity, freshness along with a lot of positive energy. As the first rays of the sun gently fell on the dew covered shimmery leaves, it seemed to be telling me to think and be positive.

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Nature was surely decked up in one of her loveliest attires – was refreshing and gorgeous. Walking on the moist soil, basking in the gleam of sunshine and touching the dew drops on the leaves while inhaling some pure oxygen, I was directly transported to heaven on earth.

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We continued walking on that slice of heaven even after our breakfast. While we were soaking in the natural beauty and abundance of Mother Earth, I took notice of some hardworking women in the tea gardens, swiftly but carefully plucking two leaves and a bud and then tossing them in the baskets on their backs. I approached one of them and she was happy to share with me her life as a tea plucker. Tea pluckers have to get up very early in the morning, finish their household chores including cooking, washing and sending their children to school. After walking miles on the hilly slopes, they reach the tea plantation. They work for long hours plucking leaves while carrying heavy baskets on their backs.

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In the evening, tea leaves are taken to the collection point where damaged leaves are sorted out. The leaves are weighed before sending them to factories for processing.

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Tea leaves being processed at a factory in Darjeeling

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While I sat there on that bench from sunrise to sunset captivated by the charming landscape, I suddenly realised the amount of labour which goes into making my perfect cuppa. Come rain or sun, the women at the tea gardens work from dawn to dusk carrying lot of weight on their backs. My sincerest gratitude to such amazing ladies who balance their work and home so beautifully. Also, my deepest gratitude to the workers at the tea factories who work day in and out to make sure that the aroma of the leaves lingers in each and every cup long after it is over. May God bless each one of them every time I reach out for my cup of tea to rejuvenate.

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Waiting for tea on a cold day in the heart of a tea plantation in Munnar

Tea Parlours in Hyderabad

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My search for that perfect blend did not end there. Back home, as I looked for some good tea parlours in a city of coffee lovers, namely, Hyderabad, I found myself sipping tea of amazing flavours and healthier versions at exotic locations; discovering tea machines and bumping into success stories in tea business – am literally awestruck. Sharing some lovely pictorial insights of blends and bites brewed and baked at the right temperature with lots of warmth and love.

@ Chai Kahani

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Unwinding after a hectic day; nestled among tall trees; great companion and some passing clouds over a cuppa of cutting chai. This charming tea parlour called Chai Kahani is on road number 26, Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad. It comes with the tagline Chai Pe Charcha and with the belief that a lot can happen over tea. They offer numerous varieties of tea ranging from the basics like ginger, masala, cardamom, tulsi to the more refined varieties like jasmine, rose, marigold to ice teas like lemon, peach, raspberry, mint and the list goes on. You can get your fab tea delivered in just fifteen minutes using Swiggy or can visit one of their tea parlours either in Kompally, Madhapur, Kondapur, Gachibowli or Jubilee Hills to savour some freshly brewed chai along with some mouthwatering snacks.

Finjaan - The Tea Lounge

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This is a cosy tea parlour, situated on road number 7, Banjara Hills in Hyderabad where serving authentic flavours of freshly brewed tea is considered a fine art.

Varieties of Tea

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The variety of premium tea over here is truly mind boggling – from Oolang teas to natural flavoured teas to herbal infusion ones to yellow, green, white and not so regular black teas, the list is literally endless. There are also region based teas like those from Sikkim, Nilgiri and Darjeeling.

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While each variety of tea is brewed for a particular time period and has a story to tell, the most interesting is that of Mercy tea, plucked by trained monkeys only.

Chai Pe Charcha

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The best discovery on my tea trail so far has been Exotic Blooming Teas, a luxury leaf tea company which offers numerous flavourful varieties of floral teas made from dried flowers like rose, hibiscus, chamomile etc.; fruity teas like guava peach, pomegranate white, green apple, apple cinnamon, peach Oolong; tea infused with spices like peppermint; hand crafted teas like black rhythms, wild buds and exotic blooming bud; Chinese, Japanese, Kashmiri royal kawa; a wide range of hot and cold teas and much more including the famous bubble tea.

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The creator of this blooming business of the most exotic varieties of teas is none other than Neelima Choudhary who used to be a National level badminton champion and also represented India in the Common Wealth. Her first love for tea started when she frequently went on vacations to European countries. The weather being very cold over there, she preferred to sip green tea over cold water. Back home, she found the quality of tea very poor. They were mostly dust tea sold loose or in synthetic tea bags. According to Neelima, tea leaves are a healthier version. It is biodegradable which can be used as a face pack as well as a manure to plants.

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Exotic Blooming Bud
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Black Rythms
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Wild Buds

Exotic blooming bud, Black rythms and Wild buds are different types of handcrafted teas where hands are used for processing leaves, sorting, withering and rolling. These artisan teas are a rarity. They come in small batches and a lot of time goes in its creation.

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The leaf teas offered by Neelima can be brewed thrice. In other words, 1.5 to 2 grams of leaves can make 750 ml of tea. The leaf tea comprises of two leaves and a bud. A special variety of white tea called silver needles is made only from the buds. She offers both loose tea leaves as well as tea cups with leaf tea packed in biodegradable paper. For those interested in caffeine free tea, you can try her floral ones. In case you are interested in buying these exotic varieties of tea from Neelima and also the bio-degradable tea cups, you can click here:
www.exoticbloomingteas.com

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Well, you can’t buy happiness, but you can surely buy a cup of tea – so goes the saying. But thanks to Neelima, I was treated to cups of aromatic tea over laughter, warmth and some sunshine – an afternoon to remember.

Irani Chai

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I reside in Hyderabad as mentioned earlier and surely Chai Kahani/ The Story Of Tea cannot end without mentioning about those numerous Irani Cafés spread across the length and breadth of this city, mostly concentrated in old Hyderabad. Their origin dates back to the 20th century when Zorastrian Iranis fled from their country to escape Islamic persecution.

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Very popular Nimrah Café and Bakery (in front of the iconic Charminar) serving Irani chai and freshly prepared bakery items since 1993.

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Freshly baked goodies at Nimrah Café and Bakery

Garden Restaurant

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Another very popular Irani Café which was once upon a time frequented by the famous painter, M F Hussein for their ever popular Irani chai is the Garden Restaurant on S. D. Road. This was started by Gulam Raza in 1942 during the Shah regime in Iran. He travelled all the way to India because in those days there was a craze to work here just as we feel the same for Dubai or any other Middle Eastern countries these days. It used to be a small shop and in the year 2000, they started expanding their tea shop. Apart from serving Irani chai, they also serve tandoori items and biryani.

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Gulam Raza’s son, Mohammed Hussain was very gracious and gave us a tour of his restaurant which is being expanded at present. He explained us the difference between regular and Irani chai in the following manner:

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First, milk is boiled in a big vessel. Around 100 litres of milk is reduced to 80 litres. Earlier they would add milkmaid, but that subdued the flavour of tea and was also very sweet. Therefore, they decided to thicken the milk by slow boiling on fire over a long period of time. Some cafés prefer to add khoya, mawa or dry milk powder to the thickened milk.

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In the meantime, the regular black tea with sugar is prepared in a kettle. The black tea is strained and kept hot in a container.

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Now to prepare Irani tea, take half cup of thickened milk.

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Next, add black tea to it

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Irani chai is now ready to be served.

Tea Snacks

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Tie Biscuits

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Osmania Biscuits

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Mini samosas

Relishing my Irani chai with these delicious snacks at Garden restaurant.

Tea Time Memories

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I have always been a tea lover. I have seen my mother going places looking for aromatic tea leaves and thereby winning compliments from one and all. In fact, it has been a privilege to be a part of traditional afternoon tea once in a blue moon. Sipping from delicate bone china cups and nibbling on cupcakes, scones, sandwiches & buns, I surely travelled back to the famous Mad Hatter’s Tea party of Alice in Wonderland.

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I must mention here that the process of brewing Darjeeling tea is very different from that of Assam. Everything, starting from the quality of water to its temperature to the material of those cups and not to forget its presentation, matter – at least for my family. I remember visiting our grandparents religiously during summer vacation to be welcomed by a big, ceramic pot of hot, bubbling tea nicely arranged on a wooden tray with milk and sugar pots. The tea pot would always catch my attention since it was adorned with an intricately embroidered colourful, woolly kashmiri tea cosy. My grandmother used filtered water to prepare tea. The water was boiled, gas turned off and the leaves were allowed to brew in the water at a particular temperature for a specific period of time so that the tea would be light in colour, yet full of aroma.

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In fact, my childhood memories are still fresh – my mother brewing tea in the kitchen all round the year with guests arriving every now and then. Chit chat on innumerable topics right from politics to sports to an interesting recipe to the latest fashion in town to the most recent trip taken to the weather to the dangers of modern lifestyle to what is happening in the neighbourhood – all this and much more seemed spicier over those cups of happiness. The aroma of Darjeeling tea filled every nook and corner of our house. Our house was definitely livelier with friends and relatives visiting us frequently – breakfast would be served at lunch time and lunch in the evening; endless conversations along with slurping and sipping of the most divine brew ever discovered by mankind, was indeed a spectacular sight. As a child, I was not allowed to participate in most of the conversations neither was I offered a cup of that heavenly drink. So, holding on to my glass of milk, I would peep into the living room once in a while from behind the long curtains. On one such occasion, I saw my uncle gifting a beautiful tin case of Darjeeling tea (supposed to be of exotic variety and premium quality bought in UK) to my parents, only to be pointed out by my mother that it has been exported from India. So, while he paid in pounds, it was very much available at exclusive stores in our vicinity.

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My mother served tea in those dainty bone china cups along with crisp toasts, butter, jam and some homemade goodies.

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As luck would have it, we moved to North India from Kolkata and there I was introduced to adrak chai / ginger tea, elaichi chai / cardamom tea and masala chai / spiced tea. I found myself grappling with the art of preparing masala chai or spiced tea; was experimenting in all possible ways to make that perfect cup of chai / tea. Somehow the milk would curdle on adding ginger or tea was not brewed long enough or the milk was either too much or too little. Finally, we reached a consensus, my guests and I that I would invite them or they would visit me only to have some coffee. Well, I cannot be singled out here since I follow the same rule with some of my friends from South India.

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It has been many years since my grandparents have left for their heavenly abode; bone china has been replaced by unbreakable plastic cups; chai in kulhad / earthenware poured from a kettle at railway stations is now available in paper cups at the press of a button on a machine and preparing tea is no big deal – we have all types of teas and infusions readily available in the form of tea bags which can be bought over the counters. Dip a tea bag in a cup, pour some hot water from an electric kettle and we are good to go – milk and sugar can be added as per our liking. In case we are too lazy to do that, we can order it online or visit a nearby tea point. Somehow, the warmth of love and pampering are missing in these cups of tea.

Tea is an emotion

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Tea rules the hearts of millions of Indians. It binds people across the length and breadth of this country; cutting across boundaries, religion, language and social status. Be it the hawker on the street; the shopkeeper; the businessman; the politician at the parliament; the jawan at the border; the maid at my place; your boss; my neighbour’s child; the owner of a palatial house or the man in the slum; tea is loved by everyone including our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi who used to sell tea at a stall in Vadnagar in Gujrat and if reports are to be believed, the stall may soon become a tourist spot. In fact, Modi’s obsession with tea gave birth to ‘Chai Pe Charcha’ campaign which has helped him to connect with the common man on a mass scale.

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While I am still fidgety about the aroma of tea leaves and the quality of tea cups, the best tea parties I have ever come across are the ones imagined by my children at the NGO called Teach For Change where I obviously teach. Although they have never tasted fine tea or seen bone china (away from their parents and the warmth of a home), yet they have the most wonderful dreams to share – that of tea parties, cutleries & goodies, each time I enquire about their well being. For me, happiness lies in those cups of joy, sparkling eyes and smiling faces – Chai Kahani/The Story of Tea possibly couldn’t get lovelier.

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Please feel free to share your unique journey with tea, your preferences or any memorable anecdote. Would love to hear from you about your special bonding with tea. So, till we meet again over cups of positivitea, may your feet follow your heart. Ciao !!

/ Incredible India