Monday, December 12, 2011

Ek pyaali chai

A cup of tea, let's just put it this way, gets the attention it deserves in this household. We have been struggling with the prefect brand of chai-patti for the longest time and the discussion has been on-going long before chai latte became de rigeur in cafe parlance. Bhai, Taj Mahal used to taste different back in the day, my mother claims. I normally pipe in with increased pesticide levels as an explanation for this moodiness on the part of Taj Mahal. We should try Tata Tea, muses the husband. Sometimes we succumb to the organic promise of goodness and buy the brown packets of Darjeeling and Assam tea sold in Fab India. Do you remember the Society Tea ads, the husband and I, memories still firmly rooted in the eighties, ask each other. A quick trip down memory lane comes free, even if chai patti does not. I'd like to try the tea the pavement chaiwallah sells, it smells divine, says my mother, gentility struggling with the taste-buds. They use Wagh Bakri, says Mahesh knowledgeably, the source of this information a mystery. They boil it over and over again, the levels of caffeine would be through the roof, I observe. We all look at each other in silence, hoping that one of us will lead the charge to drink this lovely sounding beverage.

Pramod overhears this discussion in the car one day. Oho, didi, he looks at me in the rear-view mirror, you should try the tea we drivers drink. The chaiwallah brings it to us at four sharp, it will wake you up alright! I am not the one sleeping at four, I want to remind Pramod but I am too distracted by the promise of good tea. Really, do you think I could, err, get a cup, I ask hopefully. He goes silent at this. Clearly, the memsahib perched on top of a car, sharing a cup of tea with the driver-folk is not the done thing. I sigh and look away. False propriety equals the loss of a perfect cuppa.

And all this before we arrive at the actual making of the tea. We have had an unnatural level of turnover with cooks and I have come around to the point of view that part of the reason is the premium this family places on their cup of tea. The cooks are not too bad to begin with. Sure they put in too much sugar or milk but those are minor problems which we hasten to put right. Don't boil the water so much, you have to steep the chai-patti, not scald it to death, someone will offer. Always cover the chai ka bhagona and let it brew, brew, brew, someone else will poetically add. Arrey suno, boil the milk separately and then add it to the chai, I will shout in the general direction of the kitchen. And make sure you remember that some like it hot! The result is normally undrinkable and fed up with our endless instructions and their inability to please, the cooks wave goodbye and never return.

There is just so much that can go wrong with tea that it is a miracle that there are people who can make the perfect cup at all. Brew it too little and it lacks flavour. Too much and the customers are complaining about the bitterness. My mother often gives up and blames the water in Mumbai for all that goes wrong in the kitchen. Paani hi kharaab hai, she throws up her hands and well, how does one beat that? The kharaab paani does not good tea make. There are other issues to be mulled over. To add ginger or not to add ginger. Ditto elaichi. What about sugar? One could always serve it separately, I suppose but that's not how masala chai is made, the purists clamour. The milk of course deserves a chapter of its own. Full fat means the ghee will float on top, making everyone screw their collective nose in disgust and return the cup to the kitchen. Fat-free is also not acceptable, given how watery that renders the end-product nectar. I wistfully look at the tea advertisements where the family is happily united over a cup of tea, marital alliances are being made, women are coming unto their own, mothers-in-law are being pleased, husbands are proclaiming their undying devotion to their wives. Needless to say, that is not really the case when chai is served in this household.

It is no surprise then that filter kaapi has made inroads into a kitchen that is home to the UP-centric kashiphal ki subzi and boondi ka raita. The first jolt to the heart in the morning is now provided by perfectly-brewed coffee. But come four in the evening and everyone's favourite discussion is back in the house. Thoda zyaada pakk gayi, nahin?  

There we go again.


karmickids said...

I'm onto oolong and jasmine tea these days. Ive been guaranteed magical weight loss. I miss my adrak wali society/Taj Mahal blend.

Vini said...

Tata Tea Gold gets my vote. Five years and counting :)

That said, such a beautifully brown, aromatic post! And while we are reminiscing, why leave out the kullad tea from winter train rides in the northern plains?

Perfect Witch said...

I am not a "plains" tea person - kehwa being my beverage of choice, but I do have one cup of "Lipton" tea a day. My husband brews a concoction using my dad-in-law's formula - a mix of red label and green leaf teas (to which I add saunf), and always with one elaichi per cup. Try it.

GB said...

LOL! we have perfected the recipe, the husband and I. The ratio of water to 2% milk (1:1). The number of tea bags (3, always tetley, we don't get any other brands here that are good). the time to brew (yes, teabags in a chai ka bhagona--we're rustic like that!)........and it's always made with ginger, which is added once the tea has almost reached a boil. Desi ginger is so much sharper than the hydroponic varieties we get here.....The things we do for that perfect cup!

PS: I find it near impossible to replicate the taste back in India. I think it's the milk, but my upay is to have someone else make the chai for me!

Sraikh said...

I use red label.

Pound ginger, add 2 cups of water as soon as I wake up.
Head to bathroom, brush teeth.

Come back start unloading dishwasher.

Add 2 tsp tea leaves, and 3 tsp sugar

Set timer for 3 mins.

Scream at children to wake up.

Timer beeps, add milk and start packing lunches for school.

Get distracted and the chai overflows. Strain and enjoy.

I do not add elachi and chai masala. Do not like the taste of it. So many ways of making chai.

Art said...

everytime i have tea.. i have similiar conversations

Starry-eyed nut said...

bad time to read it for me, its 12 in the night and now am craving for tea. Its my dream to have a room full of chai patti of diff flavours and genre where i can saunter it with a glass of boiling hot water, choose my patti, put in in watch it brew, a dash of milk and sip it not too hot...dreams of a chai freak!

Megha Bansal said...

what sraikh said.

BongMom said...

I am a brewed Red Label with a single bag of Earl Grey tea addict. It is phenomenal.

Lovely writing on chai

Zainab Sulaiman said...

Just tried Dilmah and it's our current favourite. I thought we were the only ones who struggled to make tea... Guess I was wrong :)

dipali said...

Lipton's Yellow Label is an excellent blend. That said, to the old saying 'Raag, Rasoi, paagri kabhi kabhi ban jaaye" we need to add chai as well. I make tea in my house 99% of the time, but despite following the same process each time, there are days when the tea is perfect and days when it isn't!
C'est la vie, and c'est la chai!

Mini said...

Hi Parul, Mini here. WARNING!!! This is going to be loooong.
Your book BUV fell into my lap 6 months back (I mean that literally, as in I was bent down browsing through the Indian fiction section of Croosword and it landed plop on my head) I whole heartedly believe in destiny and so decided to give it a try. My method of selecting a book is reading the first para and then the last one. If these two interest me I move on to look for other books to devour. My method is definitely not full proof and sometimes I have grossly miscalculated my desire to read the book, but most of the times I strike gold. Your book was one such gem, I finished it in 2 days flat with much belly shaking laughter. Since then it has become one of my fav books and lies nearby at all times, just in case I have a desire to read about Vasu's pooping habits.
I found your blog 4 days back after googling your name on a whim and went through each entry. It took me quite sometime (4 days to be precise) and a whole lot of laughter and queer looks from my family. Now if you are wondering how does a 22 year old have so much time on her hands to go through 4 years of blogging in 4 days, then your confusion is completely justified. The thing is I am on bed rest and have only my laptop, Iphone and a few books (BUV included) to keep me company. Don't ask what I have, the doctor has already called me a mystery and an enigma and wants to wash his hands off me by sending me to some specialist. My boss is quite understanding amidst this all and has granted me leave. Personally I think he is scared that I have some serious infection and wants to prevent me from spreading it in his environment and is quite happy that I am quarantined.
Your blog has provided much needed relief and humour in my life and I thank you for that. I have also learned of your other book BTWC and am trying to convince my sister to send it to me from India.
Going through all your entries it is surreal how I can relate to so many of them. Like for eg my b'day is on 16th March and I loved the entry that you wrote on giving exams on your b'day. Some of my biggest exams have been on my b'day (including both my board exams) and I have thrown tantrums which will put Adi and Ragini to shame.
I am a wanderlust at heart and have added quite a few frequent flyer miles. As for Stupid Frankfurt, personally I believe it is a lovely city but yes it sure was cold as hell there so maybe it is a bit stupid.
That's all for now, don't worry I won't discuss each and every entry that you have posted in the last four years but rest assured I have enjoyed them all and look forward to the next one. Will also manage to procure your book and read it.
For now, Ciao Mini.

Nirupa said...

Tea is very important in our household. Four years back, my boyfriend (now husband), came to pick me up for our first date. He frantically ran around my kitchen randomly opening all the cupboards looking for tea. That night, I couldn’t stop laughing at that and his many other antics.

The pattern continues. He makes tea. I laugh.

Can I just say - I love your blog. I have been a silent reader for a while now, and I just wanted to let you know that I love your writing style.

Mama - Mia said...

haha! LOVED this one Parul! i am not a chai person at all. but M is. and he drinks it watery with do chamacch doodh.

i allegedly make chai that pleases him, though i cannot dream of drinking that concoction meself!

and i LOVE thele ki chai! strong, sweet and milky! it is something alag wonly. just like you cannot make sadak waali anda bhurji at home, one just cannot make that kinda chai! sigh!

oh! happy noo year!

Pradeep said...

A refreshing post, like a cup of tea.

My experience: it's tougher to make tea than coffee, since proportion of tea leaf, milk, water and amount of brewing makes a huge difference to the taste.

But, taste is an acquired trait. So, the taste of tea people prefer differ as much as the way it can be prepared.

Finally, I have been a bit skeptical of the "Green Tea"... and amazed at the way it has caught on.

Kunal said...

Great read for a tea addict like me. Loved it !

MyGrahak said...

Your post was refreshing as a fresh cup of tea. One can never have enough of tea and your post is an example of that. Have you ever had Darjeeling tea? It is a pity that the best of Darjeeling tea are exported and we Indians who product it get to have the worst of the lot. But even that worst is heavenly. I wonder what the British must be thinking when they discovered Darjeeling tea.

Divya Bhaskar