cup of tea

End of Tea as some of us knew it

Tea, historians say, arrived from China and went all the way to England somewhere in the 17th century and it took another 100 years for black tea to become the norm. The British East India Company brought the tea to the subcontinent early in the nineteenth century and started large scale production in Assam. A hundred years hence, somewhere in the 1920s, did tea become a recreational drink in our country.

Tea is a herb. There, I said it. Because it is, there is a way of preparing it. It needs to be, as you know,  made in a warm pot (if heavy ceramic or stoneware) with boiling water (somewhere 85oC – 95oC for black tea) splashed on the waiting tea leaves and allowing the leaves to brew for a bit. The hot water torture is what wakes the tea leaves up.

But, of course, most Indians make it differently. The usual concoction is tea leaves being boiled with water, milk and sugar till the end of time. Try this in a hill town, or up in the mountains in cold weather. Tastes like heaven.

Tea isn’t really what it was. I exaggerate, but no one seems to know how to make tea anymore. And this is a global phenomenon. Yes, global. Alas, the tea drinking experience has been violated beyond repair.

First – The convenient but rubbish habit of using a tea bag. Needless to say, the now ubiquitous tea bag was invented (though accidentally) in America; like most other time saving devices. (I am so sorry for you, if you are a tea-bag-liking person) Tea bags, regardless of what type of tea they may contain, are rarely full leaves but broken, granules or really left overs. Broken leaves and granules can never ever produce the taste, flavour, body or the aroma that loose leaf tea made the right way can. Admittedly, there are loose leaf tea bags but those are few and far between.

America has still not figured how to drink tea; Tea arrives separately – a cup of warm water, and a tea bag on the side. Sorry, that doesn’t do it. But, that way of serving tea seems to be catching on everywhere. Recently, I was served tea just like that in a hotel lounge (part of an old Indian chain) by the sea in Bombay. Seriously?

Another aside – no, drinking green tea does no additional good to you. Don’t fall prey to the lobby propaganda which wants you to drink green tea because they can differentiate and sell it costlier. Same anti-oxidants are present in black tea as well. And green tea is a wuss drink in any case, without any character.


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Second – Chamomile Tea, Raspberry Tea, Jasmine Tea, Lemongrass Tea, Lavender Tea etc. are not really teas. So, please don’t call them that. These are other herbal or fruit infusions which need to be similarly hydrated before consumption.

Third – has to be just basic human stupidity. Remember the curious case of the McDonald’s coffee incident? What that did was reduce the temperature of every hot beverage served in restaurants, especially drive-throughs across the world. You never know which Darwin award aspirant might hold a cup of hot coffee between his / her legs in a moving car, open the lid the wrong way and spill coffee on his / her groin. What also got impacted were coffee / hot water making machines in offices. The machines just don’t dispense water hot enough to brew tea in, anymore. So, you can choose to put a tea bag into the tepid water but it will float obstinately till you shove it down with a spoon and hope the water will turn a turbid colour of whatever. No more bold and robust brown, no more instant aroma of an English breakfast, Darjeeling or an Earl Grey.

Tea isn’t the same anymore


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