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Life with Chai


Commented by Rajesh Shethia

Chai at 8000 Feet, Anyone?

16 years ago, I took my family for a holiday to Munnar, a tea lovers’ paradise!

While doing many activities for children, I tried to look for a tea-related adventure as well. The travel desk was selling me many ideas but an early morning adventure to see the sunrise followed with a cuppa was too tempting to miss. Adventure, because it was a 4-wheel drive on rugged mountain roads at 4 am! But it also promised to take us to the world’s highest tea plantation between 7000 to 8000 feet above mean sea level! It boasted of organic, orthodox tea which was grown without using any pesticides or fertilizers. That set my imagination afire. It was a trip to the Kollukumalai Tea estate.

At 4 am we were ready to go, all wrapped up in woollens. The jeep ride was bumpy, back-breaking and tortuous. It was completely dark. I was beginning to wonder if I had selected the wrong trip. I reassured myself that an amazing experience was about to unfold. After 45 minutes, we reached a parking slot and climbed a few 100 meters on a ridge with a panoramic view.

Cold wind was blowing on our faces. It was just before dawn and we could see the twinkling stars and planets in the heavens above. The deep valleys and lofty mountains were shrouded with a swirling mist. Slowly the dawn crept on us with the hues of pink and orange in the deep blue skies. While the cold wind was caressing us, the sun arose from behind the mountains and I spontaneously chanted the Gayatri Mantra. It was a spiritual experience.

We watched the sun rise slowly. I was at peace. As the sun’s rays descended on the mountains, we began our journey to the second attraction – the Kollukumalai tea factory. The drive from sunrise point to the Kollukumalai Tea factory was an olfactory delight. We were bombarded with the aroma of wild lemongrass growing on the mountainside. Other wild floral and forest scents assaulted our senses as we turned around every bend of the road. We picked some wild lemongrass. The visual delights were a sensory overload- peaks, valleys, mist, ladies plucking tea leaves, view of mountains manicured with tea plantations, flora and fauna… There are always a few moments in life that leave one breathless – this was one of them.

The tea factory was located on a flat patch in between the tea plantations. The project commenced in 1920 and the tea planting started in 1927 and continued till 1932. The factory was completed in 1936. It still runs on equipment built in UK in the early 1900’s, transported over the seven seas and pulled up to 8000 feet by head labour and mules. The tea takes longer to grow on these rarefied heights with mists, cold weather, rains and the soil unspoilt by artificial fertilizer or pesticides. The tea is made in the Orthodox way with machines bought from England in the 30’s – long leaf, mildly fermented and rolled on copper rollers, dried with heat from a wood fired boiler.

We then decided to taste the tea firsthand. We moved to a small hut which served as a sales counter for packaged tea and having a gas stove with some utensils. There was no fancy crockery or tables and linen, no menu of scones, strawberry jam and cream or samosas. Just tea. We were exhausted and cold and they served us hot milk tea. It was heavenly. We then requested them to make some more but this time adding the wild lemon grass we had picked up on the mountains followed by another one with ginger! It was uplifting and invigorating. We enjoyed our tea the way it was meant to be – with good people. We chatted about the beautiful sunrise we experienced this morning- the chilled fresh air, the swirling mists on the mountain tops, the deluge of aromas and the sheer beauty of the morning- over hot cups of tea blended with fresh tender spices.

We returned rejuvenated and full of appreciation for nature and the history of the tea-making culture in India. It wouldn’t be fair to call this a simple pleasure. These experiences are always more intense than that. It was a truly profound experience. Here I am, 16 years later, still blown away by it!

Chai anyone??

April 22 2020
Commented by Paul Sandys

Hi Sandeep. It was a pleasure reading your article as it was a walk down memory lane . I recall our drinking delightful cups of tea at the tea shop of the elderly Nepalese lady in Pradhan Nagar , Siliguri . Well done for summing it up so beautifully !

April 22 2020
Commented by Priyanka

This is so well narrated Saneep Sir. For me you were born to be a teacher! Your patience is endless and your passion is so evident. When we first started working together I have no idea what tea is you inspired a new passion in me! Without you it would have been impossible to become a tea taster. Warm regards Priyanka

April 22 2020
Commented by Pranav Prasad

Enjoyed reading your experiences. Has certainly piqued my curiosiTEA about my morning cuppa….Look forward to learning more through write-ups. Look forward to the next..

April 22 2020
Commented by C B Abyshekar

Nicely written

April 22 2020
Commented by R Sridhar

Very nicely written Sandeep Mathur bringing back all tea memories

April 22 2020
Commented by Nandini Ukil

Enjoyed reading this, specially the first part. Brought back a lot of memories!

April 22 2020
Commented by Nandini Ukil

Enjoyed reading this, specially the first part. Brought back a lot of memories!

April 22 2020
Commented by Pankaj Mathur

Beautifully articulated, Sandeep.. need to discover and experience the amazing varieTea and depth that you have depicted here…look forward to several tea sessions ahead..

April 22 2020
Commented by Peter Chittaranjan

Made for a lovely read Sandeep…..reliving the tea sessions from the Guwahati, Kolkata, Kochi and Delhi days…..

April 22 2020
Commented by Rashmi

A nice and interesting read that helps me understand how tea can help me distress and how we can experience tea by sensing other characters as well. I recently prepared a flowering tea in a transparent tea pot. It amazed everyone all my guests who had never seen anything like this. My personal favorite is Karipatta delight for drinking on my own. My family is bowled over by Kashmiri saffron.

April 22 2020
Commented by Rachna Gupta, Sunil Gupta

Interesting n informative read. Thanks for sharing!

April 22 2020
Commented by Viral Sheth

Very well narrated.

April 22 2020
Commented by Gabriall Christy

Well articulated, with subtle humor. Great work

April 22 2020
Commented by Sanjeev

Excellent write up. Thoroughly enjoyed reading 👍

April 22 2020
Commented by Susheel Marcus

Hi Sandeep,

Loved reading your article and that’s taken me on a long trip down memory lane; starting way back in 1991 in Kerala.

Being a tea taster, buyer and blender myself and having worked with you for many many years, I fully endorse your views & comments. Tea is such a drink that needs to be understood, as there is a cup for each mood, location and time of day. As blenders, understanding consumer needs and formulating brews that bring a smile to the consumer’s face is our ultimate high.

I brew my own tea at every opportunity I get, and the discussions that follow on why that same tea when brewed by someone else came out differently is where we share the experience we’ve gained over the years with the rest of the tea lovers and help them understand this drink a whole lot better.

Great job Sandeep. My best wishes to you and Taj Tea House.


April 22 2020

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