Chai for many is the official drink of winters. After all, what is a cold day without a hot drink?
The last month was spent near drowned in a caffeine rush. I wrote faster, my fingers barely kept up with my thoughts, and by the end of week three, I came very close to posting something online about not being disturbed till I had had my first drip of the day. I have, since then, weaned myself off, but I haven’t given up a taste for the stuff and a good frothy espresso always has my heart.
But, in the meantime, even though it’s hard to see through all this capital smog, winter approaches, and I find myself putting the kettle on. The Raj has clearly not left the building! So, as the story goes, the British were late to the quinine trade market and tried catching up by planting sub-par species of the tree in cool Indian climes—Darjeeling, Nilgiris, even Sri Lanka. Ultimately, they bowed to the Dutch supremacy and had to import their quinine and, consequently, uprooted all that quinine and replaced it with tea! Now, some estates surely existed before this happened, but in large swathes, tea came to cover for the quinine bungle up.
But the legacy of tea doesn’t always speak about this connection. And why should it, as it has so many other stories to tell. No, we aren’t reminiscing about the famous kilos sold for the price of gold or the bidding wars that can get truly out of hand.
Instead, here are my tea findings of the good ones out there. Although I have included some with adjutants of all sorts, masala chai et al, and they taste pretty good, to me, that isn’t the highest level of tea. So this is a compilation of great teas and, if you may indulge me, some lovely hot mocktails.
Teabox: Kausshal Dugarr comes from a family of tea estate owners with an established export business in the field. Good of them then to have decided to extend into the direct-to-consumer space. Their teas are artisanal and deliver on taste and flavour. You can order them online. They are priced at a premium, but nothing exorbitant. My pick was the Castleton Moonlight Spring White, which was as soft and gentle as a loved caress. They also have some alcohol-flavoured teas, which were handled fairly well, especially for those who don’t wish to spend on the single estates, but frankly, that’s the real stuff.
TWG: This is the big daddy of teas, upmarket and premium, so much so that just serving these can elevate the perception of a place. I love their teas and even more so their blends, which are done exquisitely. Names like Breakfast Queen and Geisha Blossom may sound fancy, so it’s best to visit their boutique and try them with their trained in-house tasters to get an idea of what you like. Definitely get their tea jellies because they are the bomb!
Samaara: Kadak chai is a hot drink unto itself, and this brand has managed to make it potent without being too rough on your palate. Very enjoyable and works with milk and sugar. Very useful, too, because often when I have tried to entertain people with a Darjeeling First Flush and they have complained about its lack of colour and taste, I have substituted with this, added the milk and sugar, and everyone was the happier for it.
Chaiveda: Boasting Vedic properties and other marvels like weight loss, this is another brand out there, but remember, drinking tea purely for health is like riding rollercoasters to train high-speed peripheral vision. That said, they have a range based on full-leaf Darjeeling and Assam teas, and their Masala blend I found rather well-conceived, showing strength and flavour, good length and with masked bitterness.
Vahdam: Personally, I didn’t get the hype, but if there is a brand that has managed to capture imaginations and win the race when there was none, it’s Vahdam. It’s as if the nation is craving a turmeric cuppa’ like it never knew it needed. Tactile and therapeutic values aside, they can be a great winter sip to warm the cockles of the heart.
The writer is a sommelier