Friday, 4 October 2013


Tea is great. There are good reasons to go for the cuppa. It contains less caffeine, almost half than coffee. Therefore, it is less habit forming or addictive. However, too much tea should be avoided to reap its health benefits. Our most popular drink is the leafy derivatives of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. Tea is soothing, mild and nutritive for our body. Due to its calming action on our nerves, people prefer to drink a cup of steaming tea brew, to quickly feel refreshed. Commonly, tea liquor is prepared by boiling the dust or granules of different types, qualities and sizes of processed tea leaves in water, processed sugar and diary milk.  What kind of particular taste and flavour one wants to have, depends on boiling and brewing time, amount of tea leaves added, the temperature of the water, types of tea leaves used and the optional additions like aromatic or medicinal herbs. In various cultures, the unique taste and flavour of a cup of tea vary, depending on the preferences of people. Secret techniques of making a cup of ‘good’ tea, is always at work, in preparing it. It certainly is not a rocket science, but a refined art; over the generations, perfected by the cultivators (usually the tea gardens, tea estates and the people behind the enterprise) of the plant, the species, climate, soil condition, processing method (tea factories); and of course, ‘how to’ of the final outcome, as ‘your’ tea—by you!

The great Chinese and Japanese people are the harbinger of tea. It is an essential part of their rich culture, civilisations and societies. Remember, the ‘rocket’ was invented by the Chinese and ‘bonsai’ was crafted to perfection by the Japanese? What I mean by saying so is, all cultures have contributed towards the growth of the human race by various contributions. Who does not know that the Indians invented the ‘zero’ and as a result, we are now living in the digital age of 1s and 0s?

I am always fascinated by the daunting, yet, glorious professions of ‘tea testing’ or ‘wine’ testing, etc., but certainly have no appetite for ‘poison testing’. However, I cherish another out of the way work, that of the ‘test pilots; to be altogether at a different ‘high’. Our ‘teas’ are the finer moments of our triumphs, of the tea testers and the drinkers who get an impression of mild energy rush. The gargantuan testing abilities of the testers of tea and their test buds are at the hearts of the matter in creating the special tastes of tea, different yet, competing with each other for attention. Rest of we mortals have to depend on their esoteric ability to arrive at the tastes.

The processed teas are usually sold in bulk via auction and there are auction houses or tea exchanges in tea producing countries. I have seen one such action house in Guwahati in the state of Assam, India. The Upper Assam in India is a region, having lots of tea gardens. However, the best quality of tea leaves of exotic tastes and flavours, mainly come from some select tea gardens of Darjeeling, a district of the Indian state of West Bengal. The Brahamaputra river (it is the only ‘male’ river of India and considered sacred by the Hindus; being the son of Brahma or the Creator of heaven and earth), is one of the oldest rivers on earth, that nourishes its people. The tea gardens are usually huge, sprawling, picturesque and enchanting (of course from a distance--from a distance, most of the transient entities appear beautiful; even if they are ugly. From near, our possessions—our attachments; can only look nice, though they might be ugly. But, as a matter of fact, there is nothing called beautiful or not-beautiful in the cosmos—destruction or creation our limited abilities create the illusions, for us only). They the tea gardens) provide good employment opportunities to lots of people, directly and indirectly, throughout India and elsewhere. The hardworking people of the tea gardens, the blue-collar labour force; consists of the people of Assam and migrant from other states of India, who are mostly, tribals. Over the generations, due to intermarriage between different racial and cultural groups of people, now they are referred to as ‘tea tribals’, a new nomenclature; that is of interest to me, as a social anthropologist and other social scientists. The cultures and social dynamics of these ‘people’ have been studied by the different scholars, from several angles.

Sometimes back (I mean long back), tea was virtually unknown to the people of my state, Odisha (Orissa). The tea distributing and retailing companies would visit the ‘ignorant looking’ and happy going folks of the serene habitats and enacted ‘tea making’ practical demonstrations and entertained the curious people with hot cups of free, tea to motivate them to take to the drink in a big way; for strength, vigour, vitality, longevity, intelligence, etc. In the beginning. They were a bunch of low paid city dwelling ‘officers’ of the tea companies. Members of the teams; looked unimpressive, tired wearing colourful dresses, generally accompanied by one or two singers with harmoniums that often malfunctioned. The musicians produced instant or on-demand song items for the assembled village onlookers at and near the tea-meets. Tea was being projected by all of the members of the itinerant group, as a kind of magic potion.

I have heard it right, but do not know for certain, that some of people, who were inquisitive and over-smart in nature in the villages; even threw the tea liquor after boiling the ‘alien’ tea leaves and ate the drained sweet tea leaves. I exactly do not know it (as I have never taken it, so far), how they felt about it or what kind of taste they got—the issue of taste of the extra boiled tea leaves was a matter of secret, which perhaps remained with them? Perhaps, it involved some experiences, beyond the pale of the ordinary man—just like the Quantum Theory of ours.  It may not have much historical truth, but was part of the folklore; like many other folklore of the time, told and retold.

Contemporaneously, the central government at Delhi (New Delhi) and our state government combined their persuasive forces by appealing the people to also adopt wheat and pork; while the companies pushed the tea. The public relations department, an arm of the government dissemination of information and propaganda; took to the streets to propagate the unique virtues of wheat and pork, to the rice and fish eating citizens. While tea and wheat succeeded to percolate to the psyche of the people, for some un-researched reasons, the poor pork failed very miserably till this day. As processed sugar was a matter of mirage to many at that time, as an alternative to it, the tea drinkers took to solidified sugarcane juice (Guda) that was available in plenty; often packed in 3.5 feet tall long baked clay containers, without having any trademark stickers on them, production serial number, manufacturing date, expiry date, maximum retail price, nutritional breakup and available calories per 100 grams—as it is statutory and mandatory today. Additionally, then, the designers’ glass glasses, or china cups (china clay) (remember the saying, ‘bull in the china shop’ thing?) of the current time, were next to impossible to find in the nearby markets by the neo-tea drinkers. They were innovative in sipping the tea, by very often making loud sounds purposefully, but more rightly, drinking up to one liter (but not above at a time or in one go) of the magic brew in a traditional big and heavy metal vessel. To ward off the extreme heat of the metal pot (that rapidly radiated from the heated tea brew towards the metal), the careless and status minded folks nearly absorbed the heat through their thick palm skin and in cover on to their flesh and then on to their circulatory system and brain. In the begriming, they felt miserable but gradually, when the skin of the palm hardened; they got enough relief by not perspiring profusely, yet feeling great triumphant. The other group of less hardened fellows unknowingly believed in the adage, ‘experimentation is the mother of all invention’; and devised ways and means to counter the unwelcome menace of the intruding heats. I mean to say, they were not prepared enough to burn their fingers for the sake of taking tea. Many of them circled their thick towels, shirts, wives’ cloths, etc. around the hot metal containers of not so hot tea; while leisurely drinking the red water in new found fashion and pride. At this juncture of the unwritten saga of the glorious journey of tea in our society, the women folks were not totally prohibited but greatly discouraged from getting into tea sipping business; though many of the enterprising women did so, in private. The small children were also affected, due to the tea drinking mothers and emerged as very skillful tea drinkers giving a surge to the demand for tea and the resultant profitability of the tea companies.

Since the erstwhile days of the tea-generation and even today, for considering the marriage proposal, the prospective-cum-apprehensive groom, would visit the homes of numerous wives-in-waiting to finally be able to tie the not lockable knot. He usually parks himself in the freshly beautified/renovated/altered outer waiting room of the yet to be in-laws. After the preliminary talks about the superior heritages, glorious histories and riches (on brief) of both the families discussed enthusiastically and participated by the mother and sisters of the yet to be viewed girl; comes the ritual of parading the girl (a kind of modern cat-walk), for lifelong consideration. Wearing a freshly cleaned (deep red shades) Sari (a feminine non-transparent wide and long thin cloth), the girl goes to the waiting room to deliver a hot cup of special tea, only made for such an occasion. Following exchange of prescribed etiquettes befitting the plot, the robotically walking girl delivers the brew awkwardly and answers certain few routine questions put forward by the boy, addressed to the table or wall, in front, as a front of shooting his extempore blah-blah monologues mimicking the styles of dialogues. Traditionally, the girl has the option of replying or not replying to the boy’s mixed up and out of the box queries (forget about the girl, nobody can do that). Though, it is not a kinda quizzing time, but the conversations are certainly quizzical to musical in nature or like hitting the blind alley. Then, they look at each others’ faces for a fraction of a second prompting immediate separation and dislocation of both the utterly disjointed souls. Thereafter, the girl walks back to her mummy and jealous girl friends, hurdled together at the central living room of the family, while the girl’s father or brother rushes out to re-invite the annoyed prospective groom; while at the same time, reading his face for signs of hidden happiness on the stern and hanging face of the retreating yet somehow costly looking gentleman. But in majority of the cases, after drinking the heavily milked and liberally sweetened tea (or tea-Sherbet), the boy departs in agony; not because of the especial tea, but because of not being allowed to have a longer session of wanted togetherness with the girl. With the spirit of a social reformer, he thinks to change such a painful practice after his actual marriage to someone; when his son or daughter gets married. Many of such visiting boys are never to be heard again by the girl’s family due to one thousand and one reasons. Often, if the mediator is cunning and the girl is lucky enough, the marriage happens; and together, every morning and evening, the husband-wife duo sip tea in glee silently, remembering their first tea session, which was not wasted in vain. The momentous lucky glance for a fraction of a historical golden moment too, reoccurs in their psyche at regular intervals, in their lifetimes.

Most of the government offices open in our society opens at 10.00 am. ‘officially’, which is beyond any dispute. However, nobody knows exactly as to when all the staffs will be parched on their seats and start reading the files with intellectual severity and infusing life to their dingy rooms. The clerical staffs are referred to as Amalaa in Odiya language which means, immortal beings. This is right to a great extent as we know that a societal group cannot function efficiently and effectively without a bureaucracy—the society can continue without food for at least few days or more but will become dysfunctional and flounder without the office clerks. They are additionally referred to as ‘Babus’ or dignified persons In English, while the presiding officers who lord over the allotted offices as Sirs (Sires). The Babus and Sirs are considered a type of superior breed, till they retire from the government service. After that they quickly fade out pr become religious reclusive. They also lose their earlier aura of invincibility and intellectual acumen. They receive hefty pension and become helpless, hapless and clueless about reality.

Being permanent employees of the mighty government and assured of lifelong government sustenance (now, largely discontinued at the lower rung of officialdom), they are a law unto themselves—though, not everyone. I do not fault them, for they are only expected to operate under the laid down laws; becoming upright and devoid of emotions, yet always open to ‘considerations’. It is so because, additionally, their actions pertaining to their works cannot be questioned or challenged by the taxpaying humble citizens. Of course, India has a revolutionary ‘Right to Information Act’, extremely friendly and pro-people in letter and spirit, still the majority of people of India do not use the sharp edged instrument, for availing better governance, quick work for them, due to ignorance or for not wanting to inviting unnecessary wrath of the concerned employees or the department. Everywhere, the bureaucracy is an essential yet unavoidable maze.

When the individual employee reaches to start his duty, first and foremost, he sits for a while and orders a hot cup of tea from the tea vendors circulating inside the office or asks the orderly(or aged office boy, who might retire in a couple of years) to fetch a cup of tea from the tea shop situated inside the far-off corner of the government building, duplicating the false notion of another government department (we can say this to be the catering section).  The tea shop owner may also act as the movers and shakers of the files. One can solve his/her office related work problems quickly by approaching the concerned government employee via the tea vendor. The tea seller is the person who is closest to any government employee by reaching him/her several times during the duty hours and beyond, too. Work in most of the government offices is abruptly punctured by intermittent long tea sessions and a lunch time plus liberal holidays and jolly-days, etc. that may delay actions sought after by the people. (But, I want to make it pretty clear that whatever happens in the government offices is completely legal and moral. It is of highest order also).
In India, a major employment sector is tea vending (along with other goodies), I believe this sector is better than the defence production, steel, space research, software, or the underground or over-ground black-market sectors; considered separately. The good news is, it is booming in leaps and bounds, contributing variously to become the economy of India become resilient. Our government has no statistical data on it. The Reserve Bank, Planning Commission or even the pro-poor World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), DFID, European Union or ant such important mover and shakers of the economic-political fate of people of the world have not given a damn, when it comes the buoyant, robust and ever expanding tea vending economy. It is a very low investment type of instant self-employment avenue and a spring board to get filthy rich, if one is ingenious enough to force-acquire a prime plot of land near to the road or in other strategic places. In my country, people are everywhere. They are even in places; where they are not supposed to be. Remember, we as a nation, is second only to China and none else in terms of population. So, one is almost sure to get enough customers to sell the hot tea and with adequate credit control strategy and a helpful loan from the government or the nationalised banks; can sufficiently remain assured of a gradually unfolding golden future. I am giving you a concrete example of the city where I circulate.  I have been doing the rounds in Bhubaneswar for the last 20 to 25 years. In the beginning, when the capital city of Odisha was established newly, not much of people were staying here. Majority of the residents were the government employees. Cycling was the standard norm for most of the people in the town, as the mode of going here, there and everywhere; without bothering about fuel. It was better than horse riding in terms of expenses and medical care an eco-friendly. Many people from the hinterland and from far off places slowly reached the new city. They started to build the slums (also buildings) and did odd jobs. Some of them opened teashops near the government offices and market places. The other surplus people having no chance of opening of tea shops to serve tea to powerful people (actually the government servants), and ordinary residents; took chances and dispersed to near and far off places inside the town to occupy government lands available aplenty; for assembling their tea shops (and other shops or for just like that) with old bamboos, wooden planks, plastic sheets and whatnots. They just looked queer and pathetic without adequate means of survival. Many of these clueless vendors were lucky. Soon, Bhubaneswar attracted people from all over Odisha and also other from different parts of India; being the only developing city in the Eastern-India. In the beginning, it was slow-the development. In fact, everything was slow; the fixed telephone, the public transport system, electricity supply, water supply, work in government offices, the politicians, corruption and other things. Soon, the town became a fast growing city and life started to grind.

Emerging out of the political apathy and administrative stupor after stupor, the city of Bhubaneswar stated its boom tome. Riding the currents, the tea vendors and other numerous small businesses started to flourish. Later, the government allotted land and a modern plan to construct a kiosk/parlor with licenses to carry out their business by subscribing to the milk from state enterprise. The tea shops proliferated in every nook and corner of the city. Apart from the government milk, they stacked other merchandises. In few years time, the sellers of tea (and other such assorted consumer items) have become one of the most successful classes of businessmen, without much risk or investment towards the costs of finished goods and investment in costly lands.

I always say, do not ask me whether I will take tea or not to my colleagues and friends, because as a cardinal rule; I would never like to refuse a cup of tea from anyone. My old relations know it for sure and I tell about the rule to the new ones. When friends or others from afar have some work in the city where I stay and ask my detailed home address or office address; I tell them not to worry and relax. To locate me is the easiest thing, as one can simply reach the locality and meet any of the tea shop vendor for the exact direction to reach me. I am extremely friendly with the tea vendors, wherever I stay or work; and therefore, they are the ones who know me and my exact locations during the day. I do not reveal much to them about my night sojourns and so, it is always better and easy to find me before the sun sets. If somebody is allergic to tea, then only I give my address in details and the landmarks they will encounter to find me in person; they need not go to the tea vendor for getting me.

I am a strict vegetarian (but actually take eggs only, without anybody’s knowledge; to retain the tag ‘strictly vegetarian’) and believe in non-violence (with only one exception—I commit regular violence against the blood sucking, mini vampire editions, called mosquito) and tread in the noble principle of ‘live and let others live’.  But I forget all these while in a tea shop. For this, I neither fault myself nor the tea shop guys. One has also to adjust to situations that cannot be avoided. Due to heavy demands for their special tea, the tea makers at times just ignore the hoards of hungry ants latched to the sugar cubes inside the transparent plastic container thy add to the boiling tea liquor. Further, regularly and accidentally falling of flying insects into the boiling tea may also happen in front of the waiting customers. Not only me, I have noticed others too, are never concerned about the additions of ants and insects into the tea; soon they are going to take. Since, no one has time for useless things like this, and the final cup of tea tastes well and good after straining the tea lives along with the boiled ants and insects, I do not mind in a non-vegetarian cup of tea by the roadside.

Taking too hot tea, too fast or too soon, may be injurious to one’s health. It can burn your lips, tongue, interior mouth cavity, throat and whatever parts are down under. If somebody is drinking hot tea in extreme hurry and carelessness, it might enter the windpipe, proving agonising; that may require quick medical attention. Remember, how you felt, when accidentally little bit of water or food particles just touched the windpipe on earlier occasions? This usually necessitates forcibly clearing(clearing the throat) of the opening of the critically placed opening of the windpipe that connects the lung, that has a system of intricate tunnels to receive the oxygen laden air and expel impurities from within the body; by means of inhalation and exhalation of breath. I am saying all this because, I have heard about a person, who died on the spot after accidentally pushing one gulp of hot tea down his throat but on to the windpipe. Alighting from a rural bus, he was taking a hot cup of tea absentmindedly and the vehicle engine was on. Suddenly, he noticed that the bus had started to move. Since he was a passenger in the bus, he had to get inside the already running vehicle. In a huff, the unfortunate person tried to very quickly gulp some amount of the hot tea, then to return the unfinished cup to the tea vendor and pay the money due. He was so perplexed at that critical juncture that somehow, the hot tea entered his windpipe, reaching the inside of chest. He died instantaneously for his too quick actions, combined together. We need to learn from others’ actions, not our own.

You may be interested in knowing the health benefits of tea. Without going into details, I want to inform you (you might be knowing also) that tea has properties that can (1) prevent tooth decay and fight bad breath, (2) build stronger bones, (3) strengthen the immune system and prevent the risks of cancer, (4) protect the heart, (5) prevent premature ageing, (6) cleanse the intestines, (7) reduce risks of ovarian cancer, (8) eliminate body fats, (9) boost memory, (10) reduce of the Alzheimer’s disease of the brain. I received this information from a registered medical practitioner and believe that it might be true. For complete information of the benefits of drinking tea, and adverse consequences, if any; you can consult your physician, who will be happy to provide you with all the latest scientific information on tea.

The most popular or the common man’s tea (this includes the ladies, as well; to be gender neutral) is a brew that is prepared by boiling the tea leaves in water to extract a strong liquor base. During the heating process, milk and sugar and other optional flavouring plant derivatives are added. People say that though it is tasty still the type of tea is bereft of most of the beneficial effects of tea on our health. Therefore, as far as possible, one should try to avoid it and instead, take the red tea or green tea; most importantly, without or less of the processed sugar and no milk. To fully enjoy the cup of tea, of its flavour and aroma; we need to choose well known quality tea leaves, while purchasing from the market. It is also important to perfect the boiling time, intensity of heat or brewing process in lukewarm water to arrive at the right taste of the elusive ‘my tea’.

I prefer the common red tea, without sugar but boiled lightly in water without milk and the addition of few leaves of sacred basil(in summer) or little bit of mashed ginger black pepper dust (in winter);  particularly, while at home. At other seasons, addition of few drops of lemon juice goes well with me, too.

Taking tea has become an established social practice. It is very difficult to all together stop taking it. But many people just do that or avoid drinking, not more than two cups of tea per day; one more cup being optional. I like it this way and do not exceed that ceiling. However, it is far better not to take any kind of intoxicants, including tea, though very gentle and mild on our body. But, over the long years, if taken in high quantity, it can have some negative impacts on our health or can lead to psychosomatic dependence, too, I believe. ‘Anything in excess is always bad’, goes the age old saying!

Now, enjoy your tea!

(For The Record: Parts of the blog post is fictional and creative, to make it ‘look like’ funny. By writing this blog post, I do not have any intention of spilling almost half cup of my hot tea on your table. Further, I have no plan to generate a storm in your tea cup).