Kolkata is a tea crazy city. The Chinese may have discovered, the Englishman made it a habit but Kolkata's passion about tea is unparalleled. True, we do not have elaborate tea ceremony like the Japanese nonetheless Kolkata's quintessential adda would be incomplete without a storm in the earthen tea cups served by the neighbourhood chaiwala. From the best of Darjeeling infusion to chai, the roadside version we rediscover Kolkata's romantic dalliance with tea
Tea is literally what keeps life ticking in Kolkata. The concept of 'cha and adda' is intrinsic to the Bengali psyche. Whether it is the cheap roadside tea stalls, the mid-segment kiosks or up market tea boutiques offering a variety of teas, they all appear to be doing brisk business.
Kolkata's passion for tea can be gauged by huge queue outside some of the shops in Lalbazar area just to buy the leaves of their choice. Tea discovered in China reached England in 1657. It was the British East India Company that imported Chinese tea bushes into India in the 18th century. Kolkatan inculcated tea drinking habit from the British. The European style of consuming afternoon tea "sans leit et sucre" (with milk and sugar) with condiments, initially led to demand for strong liquoring teas, chiefly Assam or Assam-Darjeeling blend that can take milk and spices (ginger, cardamom, etc.) while satisfying the delicate Bengali taste-buds so accustomed to its spicy cuisine. Interestingly, it was the French who first added milk to their tea in1680.
Tea gained instant popularity among Calcutta's elite who readily adopted the British way of life; it also became a form of protest when the swadeshis deliberately refrained from drinking tea because of the extreme torture meted out to the poor pluckers in remote tea gardens owned and managed by the Britishers. However, keeping with the age-old Indian tradition of internalizing all things foreign, tea became the drink of the masses.
Assam, producer of original Indian tea, produces a hearty, malty tea drunk as traditional morning tea in most homes and can stand up to milk.
Darjeeling teas are regarded as the best tea of the world, designated as 'Tea Champagne'. The soil, the elevation (7000 feet above sea level), the climate, the rainfall, all contribute to its delectable flavour. This variety has very small leave which are plucked at every two or three days making it succulent and enhancing the flavour.
The word 'flush' refers to "the time of picking, or plucking, of the tea. The flushes are distinctive by themselves because of the seasons during which they grow. Darjeeling is divided into four seasons: spring, summer, monsoon and autumn. In spring, the tea leaves are slightly astringent because they have less moisture in them. During the second 'flush' you get the best quality because the tea leaf has more moisture and can be rolled better. Hence, you get a softer, rounder, mellower, aromatic tea.
Besides that, there are lots of grades of tea. You have leaf teas, broken teas, fan teas and dust teas; they're broken up into various grades. The size of the tea leaf also affects the flavour. The size, also known as orange pekoe, reveals whether the tea is orthodox i.e. with large, unbroken leaves; or CTC which means Crush-Tear-Curl, where the leaves are crushed, torn and curled in the manufacturing process, leading to a grainy tea.
To a tea connoisseur, the liquor has to look good, taste good and smell good. And while most of us either gulp down our cuppa in the morning or sip it intermittently through the day Dolly Roy, a pioneer among woman tea tasters and auctioneers advises you to "sip it gently, allowing it to twirl in your mouth so that the tongue registers every nuance of flavour."
Her tea boutique at Dakshinapan, Dolly's The Tea Shop, offers more than 50 amazing concoctions including Darjeeling – first flush, second flush, Muscatel, Silver Tips, Silver Green, Green tea, White tea, Flower tea, Stupa tea, Pearl tea, Oolong tea and numerous Darjeeling blends. Assam – Orthodox, Golden tips, Blanketing, Strong CTC , Nilgiri brightest Orthodox, Kangra Orthodox, Earl grey leaf, water mint, melon, dab malai, mango, ice-spice, nimboo, ice-cream and kava are some of the varieties offered.
Cha Bar inside Oxford Bookstore's offers over 69 types of teas and blends selected from renowned gardens in India and overseas. Besides the 'Masala Cha' and 'Truck Driver 100 Meel Ki Cha' (Hundred-Mile Tea), there are flavoured dips, herbal mixes, fruit brews, organic nips, green teas and Ayurvedic blends to choose from.
And for those who love to sip tea from earthen cups, there is the popular Balwant Singh Eating House on Harish Mukherjee Road. A blend of Assam and Darjeeling dust tea is tied in cloth and boiling water is poured over it to make the liquor. The liquor is mixed with boiled milk by pouring it back and forth between two mugs. Sugar is added separately. The Russel Punjabi Dhaba on Russel Street is also a popular joint.
Tea has withstood the onslaught of colas. Over the past decade there has been a growing consciousness about the health benefits of drinking tea. Dolly Roy says: "Tea is absolutely safe and the caffeine content is much lower than coffee. It contains anti-oxidants, fluorides, minerals and vitamins and does not harm your system in anyway." So while coffee cafés had been quite popular tea boutiques are fast catching up among the health conscious new generation of youth.
The British have departed but English tea table etiquette is still maintained in several high profile offices, clubs, star hotels and top government organisations and includes using traditional China-clay pottery, linen table cloth, napkins as well as silver service tray.
Tea has also emerged as a unique gift and gained popularity among the multinational and corporate sector. Though traditionally sold in brown paper packets in the retail tea shops rare and choicest of teas are available in Dolly's and other tea boutiques in innovative and creative packages.
Grown in the foothills of the Himalayas at high altitudes Darjeeling tea has a nutty note, pronounced greenness, strong character, and a gentle disposition, ready to satisfy any time of the day or the year. Top Darjeeling teas command high prices, in part because of their superior quality and in part because their season is limited to only seven months between March and September. The first flush of tea is picked after the spring rains arrive in March and April, the second flush in May and June, and then the final, autumnal harvest in September.
Assam variety is grown in northeast India, which is the largest tea-producing region in the world. Assam is the base for standard blends such as Irish and English breakfast teas.
The long, beautiful black tea leaves brew into a brisk, clear tea that is best taken as an afternoon tea with sandwiches and simple pastries.
For a morning tea that combines the best of Darjeeling-style and Ceylon-style teas, this dark red, full flavored tea is great in the morning and tolerates a little cold milk very nicely.
Nilgiri teas grown on Nilgiri mountains are often used in blends, although the region is moving into producing finer single-estate teas, too.
A strong, full-bodied tea, this tea, grown at relatively low altitudes, nevertheless is milder than Assam and can stand up milk
Grown to the south of Darjeeling. This tea is spicy and deeply hued. The tea can be drunk all day and is often found in blended teas.
Flush refers to the four separate plucking seasons throughout the year, each known for its distinctive flavour.
It is a popular Darjeeling with a superb aroma, sharp green notes, and a muscatel flavor that combines with an entrancing aftertaste. This is an excellent afternoon tea to be served with savory tea sandwiches.
It is a tea with a strong, defined character with hints of the greenness of the first flush; this is a great sipping tea with afternoon sweets.
Oolong Tea is produced with an alternate processing technique to make a unique cup that is unmistakably Darjeeling. The light roundness of the oolong, which is not as fully fermented as black teas, is evidenced by the tea's fresh palate. Oolong is especially good for digestion, so is naturally a great tea to drink after a large meal. It should never be drunk with milk or sugar or lemon.
Small particles of tea one grade larger than Dust produced as a byproduct of the tea making process.
Green tea is unfermented. After the leaves are picked, they are immediately pan-fired or steamed to prevent any oxidation. They are then rolled, dried and sorted. Green tea has a more subtle, delicate flavor, and far less caffeine than fermented tea. It is said to be medicinally beneficial, because the unfermented leaves retain a higher concentration of natural vitamins and polyphenols than their fermented counterparts. Green teas should be enjoyed in their pure form, without milk or sugar.
Green or Oolong Tea scented with jasmine flowers. Oolong: Derived from ‘wu long’ the Chinese term for black dragon. A type of tea that is semi-oxidized resulting in a brew that is between a Green and a Black Tea. These teas are renowned for their complex tastes and aromas.
White teas are the rarest in the world, produced on a very limited scale in China and Sri Lanka. Traditionally plucked only at daybreak in four provinces of north east Fuijan, so that the buds are unopened. It is identifiable by the presence of the white hairs on the leaf tips, and a light infusion.
It has a muscat grape like taste and is associated with many Darjeeling Teas.
Traditional method for picking and processing teas in India without using CTC technology.
Acronym for Cut, Tear, and Curl, a machine process which cuts the withered leaves into uniform particles to facilitate a complete oxidation. It is used in teabags to create a stronger more colourful tea.
The smallest grade of tea typically associated with lower quality. Dust is prized for its quick extraction and is commonly used in teabags.
Any Black Tea blend flavored with Bergamot Oil.
The perfect brew:
For the noble tea-lovers of Kolkata, here is the secret of making a perfect cup of tea.
The teapot should first be warmed with boiling water. This water is then poured away.
Please use a level teaspoon of tea for each person.
The tea is put into the pot. Freshly- boiling water is poured in and a tea cosy placed over the pot.
The teapot should be allowed to ‘stand’ for few minutes (this is called infusing) before the tea is poured out. Generally, three minute for a light brew four minute for medium brew and five minutes for a strong brew is recommended.
Tea should be poured through a 'strainer' into a tea cup, so that the tea poured out has no leaves in it. If you do not pour out all the liquid from the teapot after five minutes, the liquid infusion left in the teapot will turn bitter in taste.