Sunday, September 09, 2007

Tea Snobbery

I was never a tea snob even though I spent most of my life surrounded by the variety. The pot had to be bone china and unblemished by tea stain. It had to be rinsed in hot water before letting the leaves steep for exactly five minutes. The water had to come to a rolling boil but not scald the kettle. Black tea was always best. They were willing to jump through a lot of hoops to find the most fragrant Darjeeling tea and some of these teas were quite expensive.

You stood in the front stoop of the tea store and inhaled the beguiling aroma of different teas - Assam and Darjeeling with an occasional Nilgiri thrown in for good measure.
Tea shop owners were more often than not connoisseurs of tea and were able to introduce their patrons to a taste they would love and keep returning for. If you found a really good tea shop it was customary to spread the word among family and friends.

If you were a regular, the proprietor would have a special house blend that was exactly the thing your tea palate craved. It would be a six part leaf and four part fannings from two different estates. The second flush would have just arrived and would come highly recommended. Several packages would be made. The tea would be scooped out of wooden containers, mixed and poured into brown paper bags. The bags would be sealed around the edges and then wrapped in a couple of layers of silver foil.

In the pantry you did not keep these precious packages around spices, pickles or anything with a strong smell. A special guest or a favorite sibling would always be treated to the best tea that money could buy. Then there was that look of rapt anticipation as this person look their first sip. Eulogies would follow and often a second or third cup as well.

The sound of tea being poured from a tea pot into a cup always triggers nostalgia. Back in the day when the tea snobs did their thing, I was happy to have my cup of chai - the strong, sugary milky kind with cardamom, bay leaf, saffron and ginger. The snobs would not let me touch their precious Darjeeling teas to make my plebeian "concoction" with. I would have to settle for a Lipton Red Label.

I was their lost cause - a classic case of nurture not being enough to overcome the strength of nature. Maybe they were wrong or too hasty in their assessment. Now that it is nearly impossible for me to come by good Darjeeling tea, my soul craves for it. Good old chai just does not cut it.

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