Musings over a steaming cup of chai

Tea tales

Musings over a steaming cup of chai

The tea-trail that the Britishers kicked off in India to break the Chinese monopoly became an ingra­i­n­ed part of our culture over the years. It’s no joke when the yo­ungsters emphatically call chai, ‘Indian’. “We have more of a tea culture, than coffee. Every hostel in JNU has a tea shop in it that opens at 5.30 pm in the evening and stays open till at least 5 in the morning,” quips Gazal Malik, a student of Sociology in JNU. Metrolife goes on a tea-trail, speaking to tea-buffs, chaiwallahs and connoisseurs in the Capital about the cup that cheers.

A tea connoisseur and owner of ‘Aap ki Pasand Sancha Tea Shop’ in Daryaganj, Sanjay Kapoor, explains, “The rebellious sentiment against tea-drinking as it was introduced by British is passé, our legacy puts it light years back,” says Sanjay, revealing, “In fact, our version of tea, where you whip up a liquid and bring it to a boil finds similarities in the Turkish culture.” 

“Evolving it over the years, the kind of spices – ginger, elaichi and other endemic Indian spices- that we put in our tea, perhaps would be sacrilegious for a British tea,” says the tea aficionado in jest. His tea boutique that sells over a 100 variants of tea has a rece­ntly developed quintessential Dilli ki chai as well. “By its na­m­e, the elaichi tea, this Delhi specific variant might sound like a pedestrian idea. But the combination of leaves and fla­vour that we have developed gives you a fine balance of tea and elaichi, where the effect of cardamom doesn’t overshadow the taste of tea,” adds Sanjay.

Looking over a thousand ‘mutinies’ since 1984, Jeevanand Joshi puts up his tea stall – a humble chai pan, stove, ingredients along with a few savouries – at Jantar Mantar protest site. “Shuru mei aye the toh kuchh rujhaan tha iss sab mei, ab bas apna kaam karte hain,” says Jeevanand, dismissing any hint of interest in the subjects that his custo­m­ers talk about, their pro­t­ests and concerns.

“Be it rain, fog or scorching heat, I come and settle here at 4:30 in the mor­n­ing, working till evening. I ha­ve no interest in what my chai tastes like, I just like it if it sells, and here it sells a lot,” adds the tea-seller while dispe­nsing steaming cups of tea.  Wh­en Jeevanand started his modest enterprise, a cup of tea came for “Re 1 or Rs 1.50 per cup back in the ’80s. No­w, it has gone up to Rs 8 per cup.” 

Owning a permanent tea st­all on the other end of the site, Pradeep Kapoor says, “Khaate rakhte hain chai ke liye hum, protestors aur mediawalon ke liye. Itni chai bikti hai yaha­an.” Perhaps in this part of Delhi, tea sells the most at Jantar Mantar, may be a little less than Old Delhi, Daryaganj and similar areas, adds Pradeep. Unlike Jeevanand, he took keen interest in the Anna Hazare 

movement, and proclaims, “I promoted AAP to my custo­m­ers; when I feel for a movement, I support it through my network of clients,” says the ardent AAP supporter. “Relaxing with his cup of tea at the India Gate lawns, Ishwar Singh, points to his peculiar interest in tea, “I like it bitter, not too sweet. With that flavour, I can down at least 25 cups of tea a day.” But the misty-eyed bespectacled 75-year-old Surinder Bajaj tends to disagree, leaving us with a philosophical musing,

“It’s not the flavour or aroma of a tea that makes it special; it is the ambience, your friends, the tea-seller, conversations, that make for a perfect cup of tea,” reminding us of actress Jyoti Dogra’s acclaimed performance ‘Notes on Chai’ where the protagonist states, “Aapko jaisi chai peeni ho waisi hi pini chahiye, nahin toh nahin.”

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