Tea - one of our most loved beverage; include the black and the green variants, it is consumed across the globe as an integral part of living. Drinking tea is a habit and a solitary pleasure as much as it is a social occasion, an event in itself. India is no exception to this ritual; just the added quirkiness is what prompts me to pen my thoughts here.
As per the World Bank data, India is the 27th largest tea consumer in the world of 195 countries. And given this love for tea, the associated emotions run deep. We are by far an emotional bunch of people attached to most of our rituals, from deeply religious ones to highly mundane ones. It is hence not a surprise that the tea ritual too holds a special place in our hearts. In fact, the one thing I have realized over years is that while Indians get touchy about a lot of things, nothing quite stirs up emotions like a cup of tea, and nothing beats the grief you are subjected to if their cup is not ‘achchi chai’.
What baffles me though is what is this ‘achchi chai’. The way of making tea is as varied as the love for the beverage is deep. My first brush with making tea was at the age of 12 when I started making for my parents – a lightly brewed, less milk and sugar cup. From there I graduated to making tea for relatives and guests, for relatives of relatives and now practically everyone. And from there also started the saga of an impending comment on every single cup of tea I have ever made.
Some people loved the light brew while others looked at the ‘boiled water’ in disdain. Some wondered why I pinch on milk and others wondered where the cream went. Some wanted more color, some more strength, some spices while others wanted it black (which comes with another set of variants involving sugar, hue and brew strength). Every time I have catered to one person’s taste, I have - without fail - made another one unhappy. Within my circle, there are people who love my tea enough to ask me to make it even when outside my home, and there are others who can’t bear the thought of having to consume what I serve. Many have even helpfully tried to coach me on what perfect tea should taste like; just that each coaching session taught me a different version of the perfect tea and left me thoroughly confused, eventually leading me to serve a mish-mashed version of all those tutorials that I make today.
Till date, not a day passes without the critique of the brew - with comments ranging from ‘achchi si chai bana do’ to ‘aaj woh baat nahin hai’ and luckily sometimes ‘perfect bani hai’. The personalization of the quintessential beverage is high even with a single-family unit, while not catering to it is enough to cause offence. And so my struggles with making everyone happy continue to fail, I guess making tea is just not my cup of tea!
(Author is a mother, an MBA graduate and part-time research consultant, currently residing in Dubai)