Well, we are all doomed to turn into the thing we turn up our noses at. And besides, I did not necessarily enjoy all those non-discriminatory varieties of chai. One particular concoction, often encountered in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, made me want to throw up. It took me a while to figure out that the problem lay in the water (high on fluoride). In other states, especially Punjab, there was the opposite problem. There was no water at all in ‘doodh-patti’ (milk and leaves). This is essentially full-cream milk lightly flavoured with tea, a mark of either prosperity (cows and buffaloes in the household) or warm hospitality (you wouldn’t serve watery tea to a visitor). And then there was the delightfully named abomination, ‘khade chammach ki chai’ — tea with so much sugar, the stirring spoon stands upright in the glass.
It is the last type for which I found a heart-stoppingly romantic description in a new documentary film on tea, Steeped and Stirred. A nonagenarian from Hyderabad said it was called ‘lab-bandh’, Urdu for sealed lips. In other words, tea so sweet it practically sealed your lips. The other two attributes of a truly desirous cup of tea, he recalled, were ‘labaalab’ (full to the brim) and ‘lab-soz’ (hot enough to scald the lips).
From a short article I wrote about my own relationship to tea and about a new documentary film made by someone whose passion seems to rival mine. Read the full piece here: