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SnooTea: Just My Style


(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.


Tranquilitea, Coonoor

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.


Agony of Tea leaves

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.


Tranquilitea, Coonoor

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.”


A pot of silver tips with cookies and quiche

Yes, the finest teas in the South grow in the Nilgiris and the story of tea in S. India began right here in these Mountains. It was in 1834, under the supervision of M Perrottett, a French botanist, that the first tea seeds were planted and it took another five years before it began to thrive. Though tea shops and canteens shape the contours of the Indian roadways it is hard to find Tea Lounges that serve specialty teas. I had to travel all the way to Kochi, Kerala to find another tea lounge. Tea Pot on Petercelli street in Fort Kochi lies very close to where the first tea auctions in the South were held.

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 July 5th 1947. Interestingly not a single lot was sold during the auction on that day but later it picked up.”


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.


Death by Chocolate with Iced Tea

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 Fort Kochi, Tea Pot sits pretty on history’s pages. The quaint lounge is embellished with tea chests, kettles and tea pots done to send out the right vibes so that one feels perfectly at ease sipping iced tea or the numerous flavoured teas or biting into the samosa chat.


Tea Pot, Fort Cochin

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

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

Munnar

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.)

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