As India commemorates 75 years of independence this year, I thought I’d share my thoughts on a particular gift that the British brought to India from China and left it for us to savour, serve and share with the world.
I am talking about tea. It was first discovered by the British in China and brought to India in the 1830s and planted on Indian soil. Unlike the Americans who threw crates of the precious elixir into the sea in the famous Boston Tea Party, Indians took to it like water. Strangely enough, the Chinese and Indian words for the drink are also similar: cha in China, and chai in India.
Grown on the terraces of mountains in Darjeeling in West Bengal, in Assam and also in the Nilgiris in South India, tea has become a staple of Indian beverages. For most of the country, it represents waking up to a new day and is also the sign of Indian hospitality. A guest who visits one’s home is always offered water, followed by a cup of hot tea.
I believe that Indian teas are some of the world’s finest; indeed, Darjeeling teas are often referred to as the Champagne of teas. There are so many varieties within this wonderful drink, from first flush, to second flush to CTC (crush, tear and curl) blends and so much to discover in flavour and colour that tea as a beverage is an important part of brand India.
Tea, its making and its consumption can be an education in the same sense that whisky and wine appreciation are. And when coupled with travel to the tea growing and processing regions, it can be an altogether new way to experience India and Indian tea.
For now, though, let me leave you with the thought that the next time you make yourself a cup of tea, remember there is an entire world of this elixir that you might not have discovered yet. Enough to stir you into some galavanting?!