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Not just another cup of tea!

Back in 1994, I along with my family, went on a trip to Sylhet. It was a memorable one the rocky waters of Jaflong, the mystic hills and the valleys lining the city's landscape, the undulating, lush tea gardens, and the endless sacks full of ripe oranges bestowed on us as presents are vivid and alive in my memory.

Another aspect of this trip that is well-etched in my memory is the preparation and serving of tea in one of the gardens I visited. The process required not one but two bearers. With their gloved, dextrous hands they would first put a whole plethora of utensils on the table, all for making tea. There would be a white, delicate china teapot carrying piping hot, aromatic tea. It would then be served in dainty china cups with a pot of milk, sugar cubes and lemon wedges. More than the tea what I remember is the ceremonious air of the whole affair. With their sombre faces the bearers poured tea as if it were a miraculous elixir and the act a religious one. The colonial romance and fascination associated with tea was practiced in full force even then and we, borderline Anglophiles, revelled in its glory.

In our household tea was always served in a similar fashion. My father, being a stickler for proper table manners and dining etiquette, would never settle for a callously-prepared cup of tea. The whole process of scouring for the right blend of tea leaves, the perfect brewing point coupled with the additives made a simple cup of tea a drink fit for the Gods in his hands. As the wispy curls of steam emanated from the cups it would create a romantic mood all around; one would linger in a lascivious fashion, savouring every sip, every drop to the fullest.

By Sabrina Haq

The tea tale

It is popular knowledge that the tea culture was introduced in the sub-continent by the British. Time saw them depart from this land but leave footprints on our socio-cultural scene. We do not have elaborate tea ceremonies like the Japanese but tea, nevertheless, is deeply rooted in our traditions as a drink to be savoured alone or served to guests on all occasions, big or small.

Till the end of the eighties, until they were first branded in sachets, tea leaves were sold loose in the open market. No bazaar was complete without a stall offering tea leaves in large containers, which could be purchased as a blend or as one pleased.

Noor Tea Company, located in Dhaka New Market, is an excellent source for loose, clone tea leaves sourced from the finest tea gardens in Sylhet, reminiscent of a tradition long disappeared. Tea at Noor is no less superior in quality than any other brand sold in bags and is exported to many countries around the world. Just standing in front of the containers, pointing out to the different flavours of leaves being sold, has a wonderful old world charm to it. Priced between Tk.200 to 600 per kilogram, they have a rich, strong, aromatic flavour. Noor also sells fine, green tea leaves, imported from China, priced at Tk.650 per kilogram.

For the last few years, connoisseurs of good tea have had the opportunity to enjoy their morning indulgence in many different flavours, primarily due to the superstores offering many a different brands of tea in a plethora of flavours. There has been a growing availability of imported tea in the local market and the bestsellers among them are Twinings of London, and Lipton and Dilmah, from Sri Lanka.

Twinings is an English brand and has many different flavours to its credit, such as English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling and so on. It also has Green Tea with infusions such as Orange and Peppermint.

Lipton is another classic English tea brand and also offers a wide range of flavours such as Lemon and Ginger, Russian Earl Grey and Green Tea with infusions. They are priced between Tk. 200-300 and are widely available in most supermarkets around the city such as Agora, Meena Bazaar, Lavender and Dhali Superstore.

Other than that, our local brand that is worth mentioning is KK Tea. It is the first premium local brand that sources 100 per cent organic tea largely from our gardens. What is special about it is that they offer old favorites such as Tulsi Tea, Ginger Tea well known for their curative properties. Priced reasonably under Tk. 100 per packet they also offer Black and Green Tea.

So, whether you wish to stick with old favourites or tickle your taste buds with new flavours, do not forget to indulge and enjoy your cup of delicious goodness!

By Sabrina Haq
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed



Brewing perfection

How do you brew that perfect cup of tea? The answer will differ from one connoisseur to another; and the debate over 'milk' and 'raw' may go on for eons to come. Some prefer 'raw' while for the great majority of Bangladeshis, latte is the norm.

Some argue that in tea latte, the milk takes the flavour out of the concoction, making it watery. Propagandists for latte however vie for the rich, creamy texture that it attributes to the tea. And that spiked feeling of extra helpings of sugar makes it an all-time local favourite.

Sipping a piping cup of latte tea at a “tong” (street-side tea stall), I could not help but wonder at the gastronomic prowess that was behind it. As I keenly observed the boy behind the stall, the secret to the bitter liquid, enveloped in the foamy froth of milk boiled for hours, was revealed. With a large wooden spatula, the young boy poured two-third portions of boiled milk into a glass cup and filled the rest with the tea liquor.

My search for the best tea in town had a good start. But soon came across predicaments.

A beverage as humble and as versatile as tea was extremely difficult to quantify within a list of say, Top Ten.

“I like the masala tea that is served in all the respected eateries of the city, but in reality that is only for a one-off dining experience. I can't even think of repeating that spiced up beverage in my regular meals,” says Abrar, someone who enjoys his tea. “However, on most occasions I go for latte or even raw,” he adds but agreed to the notion that it is quite impossible to chalk the top ten.

Meet Anwar, someone at the opposite end of the spectrum. He likes flavoured tea and his obsession has reached such levels that he refuses to gulp the plain tea served almost everywhere. “I am not a fan of tea. So when I indeed drink a cup, I drink the best.” He smirked.

But what the best stands for may differ from one to another. Many proponents of tea, in reality seek the flavoured liquids while smoking, the untimate combination. However, there are no concrete scientific explanations linking cigarettes with tea.

“The flavour of tea that I take depends on the meal that precedes it. After a heavy meal I might prefer a light cup of raw tea but with a snack like a panini I may opt for a heavier gustatory experience,” opined Abrar.

But all friends sought for comments, or suggestions in preparing the “Top Ten” unanimously agreed that a great cup of tea is not only in the mastery of brewing but is also in the company of people you have it with.

“Tong Rules” was the univocal reaction.

So next time you sample a taste of tea at some obscure tea stall on the road side pavement or an a la carte dining experience, cherish that cup of tea, the one that your meal ends with. Ponder for a while, does it make it to your top ten list? I am sure you will find yourself in the predicament I now find myself in.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


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