When travelling to India, you come with certain preconceived ideas and the expectation that a country that grows and exports some of the finest teas in the world should have expert brewers of tea was definitely one of mine.
So my first cup of tea at the school came as something of a surprise, laced with more sugar than is found in a whole refinery and incredibly milky. Not what I had imagined conjuring up visions of the tantalising taste of Darjeeling on my spoiled Western palate… It seemed a shame to mask the flavour of genuine Indian tea, but I experienced ‘chaya’ (tea as Indians take it): very sweet and with lots of milk.
These days I have moved on to ‘taila’ (black tea – you see, I am learning the local lingo!) after explaining to the tea-ladies that sugar and milk in tea do not agree with me. Although they have a special name for tea without milk, leaving out the sugar was another concept altogether and took more persuasion and a few more sugary teas, but we have cracked it now! These days I get ‘taila’ without sugar. I know the English – if ever there were connoisseurs of tea – take their tea with milk, and may well add a splurge of sugar, but coming from the continent, I have never quite developed a liking for that.
And then there is the tea making ritual. I still remember the days of being introduced to the tradition of taking afternoon tea at exactly 4 pm: the pot being warmed, the kettle bubbling and boiling water poured on a bed of tea leaves, left to brew for the necessary time before being decanted in proper china tea cups (should the milk go in first or not..?); mine offered without milk or sugar… It is a tradition that I have carried on for many years and in our home in England tea is still made and served at that time – I learnt from the best: Aunty B.
It never occurred to me I might not find a teapot in India and although I contemplated bringing one from England, I felt sure I would not have any difficulty in sourcing one locally. After almost four weeks in situ, no teapot to be found. Maybe this is not entirely true, it is just that the art of tea making in England is quite different from the tea brewing practices in India. No need for a teapot as we know it as tea leaves are put in a pot of boiling water and then the whole mixture is boiled again. When the tea reaches the right shade of brown, sugar and milk are added and once more everything is brought to the boil. Then the resulting chaya is poured through a strainer and voila, tea is ready to be served…
And at school, not only do the tea-ladies go to great lengths to make me a ‘perfect’ cup of tea, I also get my tea in a proper cup with saucer whereas the other teachers are offered their chaya in metal beakers. I am getting used to being the odd one out.
In my home in N., in the absence of a teapot, I have had to improvise – I am not yet ready to boil my fine Darjeeling leaves, so I use a cup as a teapot and brew my tea ‘England fashion’ and then put it through a strainer into another cup. Tea without sugar, without milk. Just as I like it…