(Photographs by Minu Ittyipe)
It began on a lark to spiff up my morning cuppa. Oh well, I just wanted a change from what I had been drinking all my life. I am not complaining about the faithful brew that I stir up with tea dust, it does merrily improve with two extra spoonfuls of sugar but I was just plain bored with the regular. My concept of a cup of tea was corralled in the traditional Indian style- coppery coloured liquid topped with plenty of milk and sugar but now there was in me this undeniable thirst for a more delicate bouquet.
Curiously, though grown in our own backyard, few of us have heard of the orthodox leaf tea, forget the Silver Tips, Golden Tips and the White Tea etc.. that quietly find their way to the export market. To make a foray into this relatively unknown terrain, I headed for Tranquilitea, a tea lounge in the Nilgiris, for a cup of “Tippy” tea. On a sober note, you are cautioned not to confuse “Tippy” with the more commonplace “Tipsy” for the two words are not even distantly related. Tippy is the tea taster’s eloquent reference to a tea made mostly from tea leaf buds.
Tranquilitea is housed in the front portion of a 100 year old bungalow called Strathearn. The carpeted interiors with its letter panels makes it cozy and intimate perfect for a cup of tea. I ordered pots of Silver Tips and Green Tea along with a mushroom quiche and cookies and then unashamedly trooped into the kitchen to watch the bearer make the tea.
When the water turned pearly- about seventy degrees, tea was added and covered. It was given three minutes to steep. The term “Agony of Tea Leaves” best describes the process of swirling and steeping of tea in boiling water: the painful necessity for the perfect liquor. The residual patterns of the tea leaves, the symbols of tasseography (the art of reading tea leaves) could reveal your future in a jiffy but such delicious digressions I reluctantly leave to the pleasure of another story. Here I must stick to the complex character of the liquors.
The complexion of the Silver Tips liquor is a pale yellow almost colourless. The tea is smooth and tastes great without any sugar and I loved the fine, flowery aroma. Sandeep Subramani, who runs Tranquilitea, charmingly delves into the making of the exotic Silver Tip “Silver Tips is amongst the rarest teas in the world. The tea is made of only unopened leaf buds that are plucked before daybreak and then dried in natural sunlight like a herb. It derives its name from the silvery hair that is present around the bud. On availability we sell a kilo of Silver Tips for Rs.6500/-. We are also reviving the method of hand rolled teas where the tea is gently crushed between the palms. The process is labour intensive so these teas are expensive. And our herbal teas are made with fresh herbs that are available in the garden.”
Yes, the finest teas in the South grow in the Nilgiris and the story of tea in
I visited the office of the first brokers in the sunny South: Forbes, Ewart & Figgis. One of the directors A. I. Kurian pointed out, “It was to get a fair price for tea that auctions began in the office of Forbes, Ewart & Figgis on
W. C. Thomas about to lip the cup
Tea taster, auctioneer and director W.C.Thomas, as he went about lipping the cup, examining the dry leaf and infused leaf, stressed that one should look for clean black tea without stalks and fibres if one is buying loose tea. Then he went back to concentrating hard on the liquor in his mouth, to understand the elements of the tea and the various characteristics like briskness, strength, thickness, body etc.. All these factors he assessed individually and translated into the language of terms rapidly. He then gave the value of each tea. I left him to his difficult task and went for a tea break.
It was at Tea Pot that I discovered the perfect pairing “Death by Chocolate”(a rich chocolate cake) with Pure Camomile. Camomile tea is fruity and aromatic and best without sugar or milk. Off Loafer’s Corner in
While I was at it, giving my jaded palate a respite from the ubiquitous dark brew I prudently fell in love with an English aristocrat called Earl Grey*. Like the stuff of fairy tales, this I think is the beginning of a long and intimate relationship. That is forever.
• The Earl Grey blend is named after the 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s, who reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic perquisite, of tea flavoured with bergamot oil.The tea proved so popular in the Prime Minister's drawing room that his tea merchants, Twinings in the Strand, were given a sample and asked to come up with a close match of the blend. Twinings sold the first "Earl Grey's tea" in the British market.
- The Best Teas in the South
Nilgiris Clonal Teas: Exquisite flavour, aroma and fragrance ( You can buy clonal teas only on availability at factory outlets)
Silver Tips : Light, sweet, pleasant liquor (Only on availability from the Tea Gardens)
Golden Tips : Golden yellow liquor, slightly more flavour than silver tips (Only on availability from the Tea Gardens)
Glendale Garden Tea : High grown flavour, aromatic
Nonsuch Garden Tea: High grown flavour
Korakundah Garden Tea: High grown flavour
Kannan Devan Tea: Bright, thick, tasty liquor
(You can buy Kannan Devan teas at the KDHP outlet in Munnar town.)
Surinallae Dust: Coloury, thick, brisk liquor (Factory outlets)
Kolukkumallay Garden Tea (Department stores at Munnar Town)
(First published by The New Indian Express. Some changes have been made.)