Monday Musing 209 - The Tea
The road journey is often considered a poorer cousin to the more glamorized air and somewhere in between rail journey. The roads are usually left for the poor or the nerdy.
Of the many joys of the road, the one that I especially became aware of this time was the ubiquitous tea stall. The diversity of this brew is as breath taking as the locales itself and each as distinct from each other as the weather, language, dialect, sartorial sense, and the nature of the pot holes.
While travelling from Rajkot to the Gir National park and thereafter travelling in and around it, we stopped for our usual cuppa many a times. I can, with reasonable confidence certify, for whatever that certification is worth, that the best road side tea is brewed in this part of the country. The sample size of around 10 and without any instruction whatsoever to make it 'special', what got dished out was a treat to the senses. It was perfect in its thickness for the taste, perfect in strength to give relief to the jaded body and spirit, perfect in aroma to uplift the mood in total. When I asked the locals the reason for this perfect blend he credited the quality of milk in that area, which kind of assured me because I was suspecting that Narendra modi might take this credit too going by the track record of usurping credit for everything that is good in Gujarat.
This experience got me thinking about the nature of tea that gets dished out in various parts of the country, particularly on its highways, away from the cities. Here is my collection of the places and regions that I have had the fortune of visiting.
The north Indian roads prefer it milky and strong. Adding water to it is considered a sign of short circuiting the grandeur of tea making. Personally I think the north, on an average, cannot tell their tea from their milk, precisely because of their preoccupation with the quantity of milk they use. Their tea is actually flavored milk.
Bengal roads and to a great extent even Orissa offers sugar syrup in the garb of tea. It is thin, slightly strong and bitter because the same tea powder is boiled more than one time.
TN and Kerala serve decoction and process wise perhaps the most scientific way of making tea because they create the tea separate and mix is with milk outside the container in which it is boiled - at the point of serving which is the glass. This process is followed nowhere else. In all parts of the country everything boils together. Actually these places have copied the coffee making process and adapted to make tea. The great Indian innovation, you see!!
Hinterland UP and Bihar, and not surprisingly so, will check with you whether you want the 'special' in which case it will be more milk and cardamom or ginger thrown in, or else you have to manage with the ones for the hoi polloi, which will be watery and without flavor.
I am sure there are more archetypes to the humble road side tea than above. I am keen to taste North east and Kashmir to know what they have to offer. Till then, Gujarat rules - with or without the intervention of Mr. Modi.