It is very natural for me to love and admire ‘Tea’. Growing up in Assam and in a family that owned a tea garden my love for tea was inevitable. For us, tea is not just a drink or a plant…….it’s a lifestyle and for many a source of living. If you have ever visited a tea garden you will understand the feeling of peace and tranquility that surrounds you and it kind of stays with you forever. Winter mornings make the perfect backdrop for a scene from Ruskin Bond’s novels. As the fog clears you can see the uneven path bordered with citronella plants taking you to the decades old beautiful bungalows. If it rained the night before the smell of wet earth mixed with a faint smell of tea fills the air. I enjoyed taking morning walks during vacations even though we were not allowed to go very far. But I have this one vivid memory of one of the many tea gardens my uncle worked for and we had gone over for a weekend. There are these Sunday markets held in every tea garden but in this particular tea garden, it was very close to his bungalow. So, we were allowed to go on our own. The walk to the market is what I remember clearly. We had to walk down a slope and as you reach the bottom of the slope right beside a hillock was our destination. It was a lovely evening. The market was abuzz with vendors selling brightly colored clothes, accessories, shoes, cheap gadgets, and food. The tea laborers are the heart of a tea garden. Sunday is the day for them to relax, go shopping in these markets and prepare themselves for the rigor of the week to come.
The evergreen tea gardens come to life very early in the morning with women folk rushing to pluck the prized bud and two leaves delicately, being careful not to bruise it. Yes, tea is made with just this tiny miracle of nature. Rest of the leaves are not important for the industry but for the plant. Did you know that the tea plant is not a shrub but is maintained at a table top height for the ease in plucking and for increasing growth of shoots? When it is allowed flourishing, they grow to become a full fledged tree. Camellia Sinensis is an evergreen plant that grows in tropical and sub-tropical climate.
Even though the connection of tea with the people of Assam existed from a very long time, we have to thank the Britishers for harnessing this potential. They organized the tea estates, brought technology and also manpower. Assam tea is known for its strong bright color and malty flavor. So it works best as a breakfast tea. We are world’s largest tea growing region and we have our own ingenious variety of tea – C.Sinensis var. Assamica. Even though Assam is famous in the world for its black tea, it also produces small quantitates of green and white teas.
Another legacy the Britishers left back was the ritual of afternoon tea with cake or biscuit. I remember on weekends as we kids, we would wake up from the afternoon siesta and head to the kitchen knowing very well the elders would gather around the tea table gossiping and enjoying tea with biscuits. We were allowed to have biscuits but tea was off limits. I still have no idea why? The reason could be because Assam tea is strong and provide the kids more energy would be disastrous.
So, reinvent your afternoon tea session with this simple recipe of Chai (we call it ‘saa’). Enjoy!!
Cardamon milk tea
Preparation Time: 3 mins
Cooking Time: 15 mins
Yield: serves 2
Assam tea leaves 3-4 tbsp
Water 1 cup
Milk 11/2 cup
Sugar 3 tsp
Cardamom 4-5 pods (crushed)
- Place water and milk in a pan
- When the mixture gets heated, add rest of the ingredients and keep stirring
- Careful not to spill
- Turn down the heat and keep boiling for another 2-3 minutes
- Pour the tea through a strainer into a cup and enjoy