Growing up, tea was always a part our ( my sisters and mine) lives. I remember waking up to the smell of freshly brewed tea and muffled conversations of Ma and Pa on
Sunday mornings. Although us kids didn't drink tea at that time, I fondly remember those winter mornings, three of us flocking around Ma and Pa to join their chat over their morning tea. We would sit in the sun-drenched verandah, listening to the children's programme on BBC World Radio Service.As young kids (and as adults too), we used to love tea gardens with their rows and rows of well trimmed tea bushes, under the shades of Siris tree, lined at perfect intervals.
If you've grown up in India or have been there, I am certain the local tea seller hasn't missed your eye. Tea shops, tea corners or tea stalls are the hubs of social life in India. Every neighbourhood market, village, town will have at least one famous tea stall run by a friendly chap. These are the 'Adda' or hangout places and are equally popular with teenagers and adults, where discussions and debates happen! Topics of these famous conversations could range anything from movies to sports to hot topics in politics and ever so popular past time- some harmless gossip! A hot cup of tea on a rainy afternoon, over some friendly 'gupshup' (chat) at home, munching on hot snacks is also an integral part of the common Indian family.
However, tea wasn't always my first choice of hot drink. Throughout my college days and early part of my working life, I've been a fan of coffee! Now you must be thinking what a coffee drinker knows about tea. Well, well, how could I not, after all an apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My father owns a small tea garden that has been his life for more than 20 years now. Also life comes a full circle when you end up getting married into a family who is in love with tea and then live in a country that loves a 'nice cup of tea'. So how could I, shy away from falling in love with this fabulous drink all over again. Here are few favourites when it comes to this fabulous drink.
Yep, you're right, Assam tea comes from mon state - Assam, a beautiful place in the NE part of India. It is a classic tea that has a strong flavour and bold colour. Assam runs along the mighty Brahmaputra river and the terrain and weather conditions gives this
tea its distinct malty flavour.
I love to start my day with a good old cuppa black Assam Tea.I find this a perfect drink to wake me up, refresh or reinvigorate in the mornings or on those lazy afternoons. Assam tea is made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis var. assamica bush. It gets its darker, bolder colour due to heavier oxidation of tea leaves. It is also popularly known as English breakfast tea, breakfast tea or Irish breakfast tea. These teas are usually a blend of 2 or more types of teas e.g a blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan tea. Usually I like my tea black, without sugar or milk but if you like, you may add milk and sugar too. Traditionally in villages, it is served as black tea minus the milk and sugar, in a bell metal bowl alonside a cube of jaggery. So you have to take a sip and then take a bite of the jaggery! If you visit an Assamese home, be certain that you will be offered a nice cup of tea with local sweet delicacies or biscuits, cakes and cookies.
Nowadays, I am drinking Assam tea that was lovingly packed and sent by my mother, all the way from back home.
Darjeeling tea - a delicate, light and gently flavoured tea is another favourite of the family. It is also known as the 'champagne of teas'. It is grown in Darjeeling, a picturesque locale at the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, in the Indian state of West Bengal. Depending on the 'flushes' first flush (spring), second flush (summer) or autumnal flush, Darjeeling tea varies in its colour and flavour. The first two flushes are generally the better two with light, bright and floral fragrant aromas for the first flush and more full bodied with 'muscatel' mellowness in the second flush. I usually buy Twinings Darjeeling tea - a blend of both the flushes. Do not overbrew this tea as it can get quite bitter. Also, the temperature of the water used for brewing this tea, should be lower than boiling point. I love drinking this tea mid morning and enjoy it without milk or sugar. This flavoured tea is also a popular choice for elaborate traditional English Afternoon Teas.
Chai - Indian Milk tea
Sometimes we do enjoy a good Chai, which is prepared in a very different way than just steeping, but it tastes heavenly! In this, tea leaves are added to boiling water and milk, and simmered for few minutes to achieve a smooth, beige-golden brown or light caramel colour. There are different variants of a simple chai which is created by adding spices such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon etc. If you've been to India you may have heard these phrases or names shouted out at tea stalls or street cafes - Chai malai Maar ke (Chai with cream), cutting chai (literally means 1/2 glass chai), masala chai (spiced Chai), doodh chai (milk tea). A good cup of chai will be smooth, silky and with a nice golden brown hue. We would generally enjoy this tea over a chat with friends and family, served along with savoury snacks such as pakoras (fritters), samosas (indian pastry with savoury filling).
Green tea is made from unoxidised tea leaves. It is said to have quite a few health benefits. According to an article in GH, antioxidant compounds found in green tea may reduce risk of cancers, reduce heart disease risk, can help lower blood sugar and can be calming. I usually drink green tea after lunch or dinner. Green tea has lower caffeine than other teas and also it is a source of an amino acid compound L-thianine, that's linked to mood enhancement and alertness. However, bear in mind, if you are sensitive to caffeine, it is better to avoid drinking it just before bedtime instead allow at least 2 hours You may also look for decaffeinated brands.
Apart from the above kind, I am now totally in awe of the different tea blends and infusions that are available on the shelves of our supermarkets. Some of them can be prepared in our very own kitchen. A couple of them, that I go to when I need them, as cold & cough busters or stress relievers are:
It is an uplifting and refreshing drink. I either use green tea as a base or drink it just as an infusion. Use about 2-3 tbsps of grated or about 20-40gms of crushed ginger and infuse it in boiling water for about 15mins. Add 1-2 tsp lemon juice and stir. You may add honey to sweeten it, I usually do not. An age old herbal remedy for cough and cold that I always have handy for my family.Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps ease a dry cough. Studies have found that Ginger also has also has many other healing qualities due to presence of a compound called Gingerol. Lemon on the other hand is rich in vitamin C which may support heart health, help control weight along with preventing kidney stones and protecting against anaemia.
Mint is a very popular herb used in various dishes and drinks. A popular herbal infusion, it has a lot of heath benefits. We normally sip a cup of mint infusion after a rich, heavy meal! Mint helps in soothing an upset stomach and aids digestion. Studies have also suggested that mint fights harmful microbes, regulates muscle relaxation and helps control inflammation. Pour boiling water into mint leaves in a pot and let it steep for 5-7 minutes, for this refreshing mint tea.
Nowadays, tea is an exciting drink with many flavours, blends and infusions: all found on our supermarket shelves. Companies are constantly experimenting with new brewing techniques and the like, to make sure there is a tea for every kind of drinker.
So next time, when you lift your cup to take a sip of your favourite tea, don't forget to think of this humble leaf's journey, its history, production and, yes, your own Tea Story!