Tea House of a January Moon

A tea house is a tea house even if you call it a Salon de The,  a `Chaykhana’, an `Ochaya’ , a `Teehaus’  or a `Chalou’.  The point is that tea remains a great unifier, an all consuming pastime for almost anyone, anywhere across the globe.

After the errant tea leaf fell into the Emperor Shen Nong’s cup of boiling water over 5000 years ago in ancient China, it travelled to  Japan (around AD 727) where the first Tea House is said to have been set up in 1584 by one Sen-nio-Rikyu.It thereafter made its way around the world, arriving in Europe around the 16th century and finally coming to the notice of British India in the early 19th century when Major Robert Bruce encountered the magical leaf around 1823 at a meeting with the local Singpho King in Assam. Legend has it that the identity of the mysterious medicinal drink that the Assamese consumed fairly regularly and had offered him, remained hidden till 1834 when it was confirmed to be tea after all. Assam Tea took the world by storm.

But another story gives the origin of tea consumption in India quite another twist altogether. It tells us that around 2000 years ago, a tired Buddhist monk vowed to spend seven sleepless years ruminating over the teachings of the Buddha. In year five, he wavered. To avoid falling asleep he chewed the leaves of a nearby bush. The leaves rejuvenated him and kept him going till the remaining years were done! But the idea of chewing tea bushes does not catch the fancy of the dour gentlemen in the famous tea houses of Bangalore. They would prefer to drink it.

The Taj Tea House on Mosque Road, Fraser Town is doing brisk business at 10 am as regulars drop in for a small glass of `Sulaimani ‘ and a gossip session or two.  Suhail, the young man in charge, tells me that they open at 5 am, when people head here from the mosque nearby. They close at 12 pm. If you were born and raised in Bangalore before the coffee franchises took over, it is impossible to not have had a favourite late night tea haunt that was frequented to catch up with friends, discuss business, fix a broken heart or linger at with a date in a vain attempt to push her pumpkin time by half an hour or so.

The `Sulaimani ‘ (called ghava in Hyderabad) is a light tea made with a dash of lemon, sugar and a mint leaf or two, and sometimes with a hint of cardamom or cloves . A twin of  the more elegant Iranian `Istekahn’, it is a soothing blend that can be drunk at all hours as a quick pick me up. It is great for digestion and lowers body temperature in summer.

A newspaper report I came across said “In his days Prophet Mohammed used to drink ‘ghava’ with dates and black pepper added to it. Later Arabs inherited the tradition of drinking ‘ghava’ but with some slight changes. They made use of sugar and called it Sulaimani”. It also added that this claim is unverified.

The best place to find a local tea house of your choice is busy, chaotic Shivajinagar. A walk around Russell Market square will throw up many – MM Tea House, BEST Tea House, Zameer Tea House, Ameena Tea House and so on where tea is housed in all its avatars. Hot lemon, cold lemon and doodh ki chai  with conversation are the order of the day.The Broadway Hotel is also well known and the famous Savera serves ” bina doodh ki chai ” (aka black tea) as well. Nooruddin, the auto driver I meet here, sarcastically comments that all tea is `bina doodh ke‘ since most milk is adulterated with water anyway!

While Assam Tea can be bought loose at Farooq Bhai’s shop opposite the Broadway Road Police Station, the building it is in will soon be demolished. He will have to shift.” In any case business is slow ” his brother says. “The women in the area are buying loose tea from City Market and selling it out of their homes.”

The tea house is also a great leveller. Intellectuals occupy the same bench as daily wage workers and everyone bonds over a tea cup. There are the silent drinkers, the isolated sippers and those who feel obliged to share their lives with all and sundry. There are the nervous first timers, the relaxed regulars and the know it all `been there-done thats.’

But the tea house is the ultimate male bastion. A hothouse of gender discrimination. It is where men escape to find themselves and peruse the newspaper in peace, discuss the government animatedly or just avoid the wife.  It is a pulsating community space with  opportunities for valuable `me time’. It’s not that women are not allowed. They are welcome to order, drink and leave. The lotus eating here is only for men.

In a manner similar to the Japanese `cha-no-yu’ ceremony, the Bangalore tea house also has its sacrosanct rituals and standard accompaniments such as the Nankhatai’s,  butter biscuits, coconut biscuits and samosas. A slice of `Dil Pasand ‘ (a Bangalorean treat – flaky pie stuffed with sweet shredded coconut)  is also recommended. You can find it at Nazneen Liberty Bakery on Broadway Road. But if you happen to be drinking tea in Russell Square, then stop by at Luna Sweets for the piece de resistance, the  `Ande ( Eggs ) ki Mithai ‘ a rich, creamy khoya based local speciality.

While you linger at Luna, take a look at the Paris Watch Works next door where Saeed the owner  just might have time to tell you about his father Mr.Jaffer, the famous horologist and show you the rare vintage timepieces he gets to resurrect or sell at his shop.

Talking about lingering reminds me of some other lovely words – loiter, languish, languid. They indicate a casual disregard for time, schedules and manic rushing that resonates well with a cup of tea. Coffee can be consumed with indifference while on the run. But tea? Now that’s worth a ritual, a ceremony of sorts. Anyone at the tea house can tell you that.” Jaldi kya hai, ji ? Baitho, chai piyo, baatan karo. Ye train miss ho gayee toh dusri ayengee”.

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26 comments

  1. Aparna Nori · · Reply

    lovely story to read with a cuppa chai :). the bylines of shivaji nagar became very vivid with your words. thanks!

    1. Thanks ! Storming the male bastion, literally ! Such frowns we got 🙂

  2. Great post..I am from Shivajinagar too..but in Canada now missing my home…your post and great pictures brings back the old memories…thank you very much…I Love My India..can u put up some more..

    1. Thanks Abid…Shivajinagar is a fascinating place ! I can spend hours there just wandering around discovering new things.

  3. Read it with a cup of Chai in my hand. How i wished for a moment, the vending machine in my pantry had option 5 Sulaimani tea 🙂 🙂

    1. Hey Tej 🙂 Happy New Year ! LOL. I think it’s time to design one then.

  4. Nice. Check this out – cool blogsite, all about chai: http://rangacupofchai.blogspot.com/

    Happy New Year.

    Kiran

    1. Happy new Year, Kiran 🙂 I like this website too, which is why it is up in my following list on the RHS of this blog.Lovely pictures.

  5. Nostalgic piece…I stayed in the Chick Bazaar street of Shivajinagar during my first 15 years of life in Bangalore and it has its own charm every time I visit it. I could not figure out why is the road known as Chick Bazaar cuz during my adolescent days I could not find any chicks of the human kind :(.

    Bilal bakery on the Chandni Chowk road used to make wonderful salt biscuits, special buns, and not to forget the dil-pasands and dil-khush too. It has lost its legacy now and I hardly buy from Bilal. Another fav spot was the Select Hotel near the Bus stand. I liked the tea there. On the same stretch (my dad said it is Hospital road) I saw a rather jazzy tea outlet. It is opposite to the new mosque that has come up on that road. I am yet to try their tea but looks promising.

    Thanks for reliving the memories!

    -Praveen

    1. Thanks Praveen, for the inputs and for writing in.Will investigate the jazzy tea joint on the next walkabout in the area and let you know !

  6. Enjoyed reading your post! Next time i’m in Shivajinagar, I’m going to look out for these tea shops. When we were in Hyderabad, one of our favourite places was Niloufer cafe near Lakdikapul. We would go there to pick up our monthly stock of nankatais and it was always overflowing with people drinking their cup of chai.

    1. Hi 🙂 Hyderabad is also a great place for food and drink, no ? Thank you for dropping by ! 🙂

  7. Aliyeh,

    well-researched and a easy on the eyes as always. Loved the article!
    by the way, isn’t ” bina doodh ki chai ” = tea without milk? I’m not an expert in Hindi but I thought that’s what it really means, no?

    1. Yes, that’s what it means, and it says so outside on a board…was a bit confused, don’t know why.

  8. Loved it.. makes me so happy when I read your posts, detailing the absolute bliss of a Bangalore I am holding on to desperately.

    Makka Tea Stall in Johnson Market was a hot favorite amongst us Baldwinians. Still is! 🙂

  9. Manjit · · Reply

    First of all, thanks for dil pasand (is there something as dil khush also.. M not too sure). Used to love it while at NIS but forgot what it was called when I visited almost a decade later..
    This is a really good read.. Really like your wandering style, makes me want to go to these places. Post reading this, I realize I have missed exploring the real Bangalore even though I have been here a million times.
    Brilliant piece… Three Chai’s !! ☕

    1. Hi Manjit, thank you 🙂 for reading. Yes, there is also a Dil Khush…the next time you wander through Shivajinagar, you will discover it. Hope you get to see more of the city on the millionth and one visit 🙂

  10. My memories of Shivaji Nagar have always been of the Gujri, where I used to hunt out rare car parts. This qualifies to be the best shopping experience ever. Amin (Mercedes) bhai, the long standing competitors in the instrumentation business, Meter Nazir and Meter Ali and Gee Basha, tempting you with parts that you desperately need, but impossibly priced. Bargaining with him was an art. You had to conceal the glint in your eye, avoid looking directly the object of your desire, finally picking it up as an afterthought. He, of course, would know all along what you wanted, but would allow you to wander over his shelves. And there was cha, of course!

  11. Okay – the chai is cold now. Time to wake-up and smell the coffee. He he he…. girl, did where did you disappear???

    Kiran

    1. Submerged with work and travel ! Been travel writing for magazines, my first story on Wayanad was out in last Month’s Nat-Geo ! Will write again soon !

      1. Wow awesome!!! Congrats. Will grab a copy to read your article. Please do come back soon 🙂

  12. Hi,
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  13. fascinating article and totally love the pics !!! I have to read the whole thing yet but very cool stuff!

  14. Nirlek · · Reply

    While I am still wondering how I bumped into this article, I am glad I did. It has rekindled my memories of sipping a Sulaimani after every meal while i walked the diagonal stretch of my lovely 10 * 10 room. Time to restart.

    One inseparable accompaniment for a lot of men, if not all, is our ‘Sutta’. Between the smoke of death and the tea scent it’s almost like living a lifetime in that moment!

    Looks like this is your last post…time to restart?

  15. Chirag Yadav · · Reply

    Loved the tea treasure hunt that you did and found the old school relic tea wallahs. I have visited most of them and like you say Tea time for most of them is like everyday life and they spend it wisely without over expectations. They carry on nicely with their great yet simple delicacies given always with love. I gues thanks to them and many like them Chai today is International Drink of the World 🙂

  16. Hi,

    Just wanted to add that it is “FraSer” & not “FraZer”. Wanted to know if Savera is the oldest tea stall in this part of town?

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