My tea experience has been an interesting one. I didn’t grow up in one of those households where having tea was a process or a serious activity. When I was young, tea just meant my mother’s concoction of milk, a dip of a tea bag and some sugar on Thursdays and Sundays. It was an occasional treat and break from a disgusting cup of plain milk. So my idea of tea didn’t outgrow this basic recipe, it wasn’t something that had the potential or something that was felt and experienced; it was just a thing to do.
The frequency of cups never increased, but the strength of tea definitely did with time.
It was right after I got married that I learnt what it meant to be a tea drinker. It wasn’t a treat anymore, this was some serious stuff. There were no tea bags, only loose leaf tea that smelled completely extraordinary and they were all so different from each other. Each type of tea and preparation had a character of its own. I, however, for a while stuck to my comfortable cup of milk and Bournvita while the others had tea several times throughout the day.
The mornings would begin with father-in-law’s big kettle filled with liquor tea that would last him a couple of hours, followed by milk tea at 7.30 for my husband Atulit, my mom-in-law and the staff and another round of milk tea at 9 o’clock for my sister and the pundit. This was followed by tea at 10 o’clock for anyone who wanted it with breakfast and maybe another round somewhere in between. This was just the morning.
After the first few nudges, I succumbed. My tea intake increased rapidly. First it was just once a week of chai tea with black pepper and ginger that I refused to add any cardamom to. Gradually that increased to as many as three times a day, and then once I discovered green tea, I reached an all time high of seven cups a day. With the introduction of green tea, I started experimenting. The occasional cup of iced green tea with mint, lemon and honey was now a personal favourite. And the iced green tea mojitos, was an instant hit amongst my friends. As I began experiencing more kinds of tea I realised that I preferred black tea to masala chai and iced tea over hot. The more I drank, the more I noticed the nuances of tea and how it’s prepared.
My first trip to Assam was a hands-on, incredibly personal experience. I was under the assumption that the step plantation would be everywhere but to my surprise it was only restricted to the flat plain. I interacted with the tea pickers, roamed around in the estate; I even rode the tractors and travelled the entire stretch of the seemingly endless gardens. They were so green, and the aroma that surrounded me was extremely fresh. When I headed back to the office I saw my father-in-law tasting teas and was instantly curious and wanted to give it a shot.
I started learning the art of tea tasting at Parcon, a tea auctioneer. When I entered their tasting room I was completely taken aback by the rows and rows of teas and cups that were lined up in all directions, covering the entire space. I was then informed that this happened to be one of the smaller tea tasting rooms among the reputed tea auctioneers. Then began the process of tea tasting, first I had to place the tea leaf on a turner (thick white paper) and check it for colour, bloom, size and cleanliness. Then I had to check for the infusion and then the liquor. Sip. Swirl. Spit. Of course it wasn’t that simple, the art of tea tasting is something that takes several years to master.
So here I was changed by the occasional visitor who had become my daily companion. I knew that tea was something I could never know enough about, but I was always eager to learn and understand what makes that perfect cup of tea when it’s raining or it’s unbearably hot or cold. I now know that for every kind of weather, occasion, every change in one’s mood has to be accompanied by the perfect kind of tea and a preparation that compliments it. With The Tea Shelf, I try to make that a reality in the lives of people who love and appreciate tea by providing the freshest tea leaves grown with the utmost love and care.