Trysts with teas


Zuibn D’Souza

When I was young, my father had promised to take me to Kashmir.

It is a wonderful place with grass carpeted rolling hills, snow-capped peaks in the distance and absolutely lovely locals and I looked forward to going there.

Unfortunately a prolonged insurgency disrupted what I thought would be the most perfect holiday.

I always promised myself that I would one day make my trip there; probably retire and say goodbye to this world from that very soil.

Till now I haven’t managed to return to what is aptly christened the ‘Switzerland of the East’; I haven’t been able to fullfill what I feel is probably the most poignant plan of my life.

Sometimes I wonder why all the affected parties cannot sit across the table and discuss the matter in a typical Indian fashion, which would include copious cups of tea. It wouldn’t be the first time that tea has been used to cut across barriers and denote an unofficial truce.

Indians should know, we probably consume the most tea in the world. To us it is a panacea to almost all our issues. It chases away the blues and melancholy, it inspires poets and poems, it is the centre of debates and sometimes the cause of them!

Right now as we ponder on a matter that is so essentially Kashmiri, it would be wise to pick up a brew from that particular


And not just the usual and most identifiable saffron strand infused Kashmiri tea called ‘kahwa’.

I think that a momentous occasion such as this deserves something equally unique and exotic like the Kashmiri pink tea which is also called ‘noon chai’.

Now don’t get fooled by the name. Although the pink tea indeed derives its name from the wonderful baby pink tone that it sports, it is made from green tea leaves.

The tea is the result of a chemical reaction that takes place when the green tea leaves are boiled with bicarbonate of soda. This turns the resultant liquid into a dark red colour to which the drinker adds milk to create the perfect shade of blush.

Then in typical Indian fashion we don’t stop there and decide to further pimp up our drink. In go pistachios, almonds, cardamom and cinnamon that end up making it a truly robust affair that encompasses a myriad of flavours and stands out due to its unique pink hue.

Kashmir isn’t the only spot with the ability to change the colour of green tea leaves. The picture perfect island of San Miguel which lies in the Portuguese Azores is home to a unique volcano located in the town of Furnas.

The springs that run through the town are constantly simmering due to their proximity to the long festering volcano.

The minute this water touches the tea leaves, it manages to convert what should be an amber-green liquid turn into a violent shade of indigo.

On the odd chance that you feel that a monochromatic drink is definitely not your cup of tea then you must try the much lauded ‘saataronger cha’ or the seven colour tea.

This multi-layered tea is the brainchild of Romesh Ram Gour who hails from the Sylheti region of Bangladesh.

Quite early on Romesh discovered that he could create different hues and densities of tea if he combined them with different spices or blends of tea leaves.

He combined them all in one glass where they promptly split into seven distinct layers which are simultaneously a great drinking experience and unique visual feast.

Although the seven-layered drink is a classic, Romesh once went so far as to squeeze in three more layers to bring the tally to 10 layers in a glass.

In Barbados, however, they skip the dramatic to get to the pragmatic.

Not to be caught in a world of fluff and colour, the Barbadians decided that if tea was going to sweep them off their feet then they would ensure that it was truly the best tea in the world and that’s why they invented chocolate tea.

Chocolate tea is probably the only tea in the world not to include tea leaves; chamomile and lavender teas are technically grouped as ‘tisanes’!

What makes this tea truly unique is the fact that it is prepared with locally grown cocoa.

This cocoa is minimally processed and used in its pure and unsweetened form. This is what adds the richness and intensity to the final drink.

The locals grate cocoa balls or sticks into a milk and water mixture which is spiked with heavenly aromatics like nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and bay leaf. The mixture is then sweetened with condensed milk to create what is the most seductive yet satisfying drinks in the world.

In some islands of the Caribbean, the condensed milk is substituted for even more exciting coconut milk.

The warm and humid Caribbean islands are a far cry from the cool environs of Kashmir. It seems a shame that I can probably visit the Caribbean, which is a world away but not visit this stunning part of my own country.

The very thought just makes me very sad.

It is probably the right time then to put on the kettle and brew myself a wonderful cup of delicious tea!