Of Glenary’s, Gardens, and Gifts

 

The majestic scenic grandeur of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks, the misty, sleepy tea estates, the British-era toy train that whistles and chugs its way on a zigzag track, make Darjeeling frantically magnetic. It’s hard to name just one thing that I love about this place. Yet, one of my favourite spots during my trips to the ‘Queen of Hills’ has always been Glenary’s, a 1950’s bakery and restaurant that still holds on to its vintage charm. This year, it was even more special.

Moving up the red-carpeted stairway, I headed to the seating area upstairs that offers marvellous views of the valley and mountains. I was waiting for an old friend when the breakfast I ordered was served. The delicious sandwiches and the lemon tart — they tasted just the same for as long as I’ve visited Glenary’s. I can remember my 10 year-old self enjoying these goodies with a generous helping of hot chocolate, which I sometimes traded for the fragrant Darjeeling tea that grown-ups ‘oohed-and-ahhed’ over. But not so easily. “Kids don’t drink tea, tutun” — I was reminded every time I tried coaxing my mother to get me a cup of tea. My college-going older brother, however, was of what was considered a permissible age to order a cup for himself. My good-natured brother would take pity and offer to bribe me some tea under the table…not unless I handed him my lemon tart.

I was lost, deep in thoughts when I was brought back to the present with a tap on my shoulder. It was my friend, Bibek. I was seeing him after three long decades. And, in all these years, he had transformed from a shy Darjeeling boy into a warm and endearing college professor. His crop of greys and silvers flickered in the sunlight and he peeked through his rimless glasses. What didn’t change was the twinkle in his eyes.

Bibek and I met in college when he had come down to Kolkata (then, Calcutta) for higher studies. A friendship that started with exchanging notes grew thicker over the years. Perhaps, my love for tea and Darjeeling played some role in our friendship. On every trip to home, he would always bring back a box of lovely, aromatic Darjeeling tea fresh from the garden, where his father worked as a manager. But he always resisted when my mother offered to make him a cup of the same tea during his evening visits — “That golden brew is for special occasions, for special guests, Mashima. I’m not a guest, am I?”

The only time Bibek accepted a gift from my mother was when he topped his university exams. It was a blue and maroon sweater she had lovingly knitted for him. With winter still some months away, it was a pretty unusual gift for the season — I had joked back then. A week before the first nip in the air arrived that year, my mother passed away. Bibek first wore the sweater during her funeral service.

A particularly memorable time of my life is the summer I spent with Bibek’s family in Darjeeling, following my mother’s death. Her absence gnawed at me, perhaps, the most. Bibek sensed this and literally dragged me with him to Darjeeling. Looking back, that was the best thing he did and I can’t thank him enough.

The tender hospitality and care of his parents coupled with the calming walks through tea gardens and hill treks worked like a restorative potion that helped me heal. Every morning at crack of dawn, I watched the workers making their way to the gardens, picking the young leaves glistening with dew drops as the first rays of the sun peered from behind the mountains. On my last day in the gardens, I was handed a tea gift box set.

The pain of loss wasn’t gone — and will never be — but I emerged out of the darkness, knowing that life must go on. Thereafter, I moved abroad for my research and my contact with Bibek gradually reduced from a couple of phone calls a year to none at all. Six months back, we crossed paths on a social media platform.

Bibek again broke my reverie with a click of his fingers. The golden-orange light of the evening winter sky was descending on the hill slopes, as I looked through the glass windows. He smiled and signalled me to open a packet that he must have slid under my fingers while I was ruminating. A tea selection gift box was unwrapped.

It amazes me how gifts of tea have always arrived to me at such opportune times. But even more amazing is the message that a tea gift box carries: life is worth living, so savour every moment!

Confessions of a Crazy Tea Lover

You know that old nursery rhyme about being a little tea-pot, short and stout? While the rest of my kindergarten class would revel in acting out each line, I’d be running circles around them. What was I doing? Pretending to be the tea that would pour out, instead. And that, in a nutshell, defines my love for tea. Leaving all rhyme and reason behind, my love affair with this leafy green infusion began young.

Perhaps, it had to do with the ‘specialness’ of morning tea — a luxury my parents seemed to enjoy every morning, and one that wasn’t ordained for the little ones. I still remember the first time I convinced my mum to let me have a sip. From then on, the two drops of tea that were sometimes poured into my tiny porcelain teacup made my day. Those mornings, I’d feel a little bit special, and a little more grown up.

Somehow, tea and I grew apart the rest of my school years. Not by choice, but only circumstance — I had long grown out of my tiny teacup, and I had bigger things to worry about. The never-ending stream of exams and tests, for one! So, when my class decided to pool in their meagre savings to buy all our teachers a gift after we graduated, I was surprised by my own suggestion. Maybe it was latent memories of my obsession, or maybe it was the opportunity to play with words – but let’s just say everyone immediately got on board. We’d buy a hand-picked assortment of tea gifts for our teachers, with the simple message – “We owe it all to your tea-ching, our dearest tea-chers! You deserve this cuppa and more.”

Needless to say, that day was made even more special when our gym coach slipped out a confiscated water kettle from his cupboard, and we all proceeded to share a memorable cup of tea together. From that day on till today, my love story with tea has only gotten headier and more complicated. Now, I’m that tea nerd who will instruct a tired roommate exactly how long to steep tea for, or how to put away a brewing basket properly. On a good day, I’m that person who shows up to exhibitions with kitschy handmade gifts for tea lovers, while on a bad day I show up to work with a tea stain on my shirt.

And then, of course, was the time that my two greatest loves — tea, and my partner — came together on one beautiful, star-crossed journey. I guess it’s clear that I’m a little bit tea-obsessed, and one Sunday brunch over tea, my wonderful partner got down on one knee and began to sing that old Doris Day song –

 Picture you upon my knee,

Just tea for two and two for tea,

Just me for you

And you for me alone.

So for some reason, the people in my life have put up with my obsession for tea, many have embraced it and some have become ambassadors in their own right! Throughout this journey, there’s one thing I couldn’t be surer of. Tea does bring people together. Whether it was a bunch of teachers and students leaving formalities behind and enjoying their last afternoon together as friends, or those countless times when someone needed a hot beverage after a tough day — there’s just something special about brewing and being together.

A Gift of Tea on a Chilly Evening

There is something incredibly refreshing about a good cup of chai. It can alleviate all and any of my bitter moods.

I’ve always been a tea lover. Growing up in Dehradun in the 90s, tea with crispy rusk was a daily ritual, while many weekend evenings were spent strolling through the tea gardens in the outskirts of the city. But for all my love for tea, I had just never tasted anything beyond the homely masala chai.

My first memory of tasting a different tea is also a memory of my first solo trip to Nainital, back in 2008. My best friend had moved to London and had sent me a gift box for my birthday. It had arrived minutes before I had to leave for the train, so I stuffed it in my backpack, without even giving a second thought to what it could possibly contain.

It was a particularly daunting summer for me, that one. Not only was my childhood best friend in a distant land, but it was also the end of my school year. Amidst farewells and promises of forever friendships, most of my close friends left for other cities or countries. And, it was just me in my 1st year classroom with a room full of strangers and unfamiliar voices. That is when I had decided to take a weekend trip to Nainital — to find some solace and composure.

It was my first day in the beautiful hill town and I had only just settled myself in a quaint café off Mall Road when I suddenly remembered the gift box I had received. I remember putting my book down absentmindedly as I reached into my backpack for the box. As I pulled it out, the words — For the Love of Chai and Chilly Evenings — beamed at me from the note stuck on the purple and pink paper wrapping.

There was a chill in the air, although it was mid-July. I can vividly recall the faint smell of the elaichi (cardamom) wafting from the nearby plantations as I opened my gift box that evening. It contained an assorted tea gift set! The first tea I picked up was Assam Double Flush. As I sipped on my first tea cup – the first of many, many – that evening, as the sun went down behind the Nanda Devi, I remember feeling bliss. The smell of the cold air, the warmth of the tea, and the oblong rays of the orange mountain sun – all froze into one sensation – that of contentment and peace. It was almost like a warm hug from a dear friend who was thousands of miles away.

I have tried many teas since then — Earl Grey, Chamomile, Jasmine, Oolong, Kashmiri Kahwa, and even some indigenous varieties from Uttarakhand. But even today, when I’m a little low and need a pick-me-up, what does the trick is a strong cup of Assam Double Flush — the tea that was first introduced to me through that assorted teas gift box I received 10 years ago .

I’ve gifted various assorted tea bag gift sets to friends since then, and also received a number of them in return. But I’ve saved that first gift box I ever received, even though I don’t always believe in mementos. That gift really helped the adolescent in me to find the positive in any situation, with the right attitude, and, of course, the right cup of tea.

Could Cold Brews be My New Hot?

Thank you Shreya for taking the time to pen a blog post about your experience with TE-A-ME. We truly appreciate your effort in taking photos for the post as well. We feel proud to feature your post along with the photos you’ve taken in our official blog and share with other loyal fans and lovers of TE-A-Me teas!
Here goes the blog post.

I was visiting my friend’s house after a long day at work. A relaxed evening was long due. Post-work traffic can end up taking a toll on your general energy levels. I managed to reach in time. Phew. I rang the doorbell, and before I could politely respond to his greetings,

“Sahil, water”, I asked sheepishly.
He rolled his eyes, smiled and nodded.

While my friend went inside to fetch a bottle of water that I requested, I decided to walk around his new home. I walked past his desk, and something caught my eye.

I noticed a beer mug, kept right next to his laptop. Before I decided to get judgmental for what it looked like, I saw a tea bag in there. I smiled and reached out for the half finished mellow looking fluid. I already anticipated the refreshing “feels” when I saw the drink. I picked the glass. And just when I was about to drink, Sahil entered the room.

“Wait wait wait!”, he yelled.
He ran inside, and I quickly sneaked a sip. Oh boy, I was already in love with whatever it was!
“This is really nice, I hope you don’t mind me…” I said
“You should have that with ice”, he interrupted, walking towards me squeezing an ice tray.
Well, the drink didn’t have any ice at first, but it tasted perfect to me.
Sahil then added a bunch of cubes in the mug. And I took a sip.

Now if you’re a 90s kid, I’ll need you to try and remember the Liril TV Commercial from Doordarshan. It shows a super happy woman dancing in cool, refreshing waterfall, shot between ultra green mountain valleys.

I pretty much felt like a fully clothed version of her.  I looked up and grinned. I asked Sahil what on earth it was! Who has even seen a tea bag steeped in ice cold water!?

“It’s a cold brew” he said.
“Huh” I felt stupid.
“Iced tea baba” he smiled.

Unlike me, Sahil never talks more than what is asked. I made a mental note of the tag on the tea bag, finished that magical drink and we left for dinner.

As for the bottle of water, it was left untouched. Little did I know, my equation with that bottle had changed. For good.

“TE-A-ME Ice Brews”, I googled. Two reasons why I got home that night and did this.

  • I am big on beverages, so I have a habit to nerd everything out. But more on this later.
  • After an ultra spicy Mexican dinner, I secretly craved the minty fresh drink from over Sahil’s desk.

The search engine took me straight to the TE-A-ME website.
See now I didn’t want to shop for tea, I only wanted to take a look at it. But the website had 10% off on their products and I found myself reaching out for my card. I got the Mint and the 5-in-1 box. Yayyy.

The term “Cold brews” still had me intrigued.
On digging more, here’s what I found:

Cold brewed tea isn’t simply Iced Tea (Sahil lied and it definitely didn’t taste like one). Ice teas are water-boiled tea extracts and sugar syrup served over cold water or ice. Cold brews, on the other hand, are steeped or brewed in water that is cold or room temperature. This absence of heat and boiling does all the magic. It basically keeps your water from extracting the bitter acidic compounds from the tea leaves.

Now I believe most of us have had that slightly bitter tasting iced tea. So what you asked for is some extra sugar. Right? Well I thought that’s how it’s supposed to be. I was wrong.

Cold brewed ice tea takes your normal ice tea to a next level. The ice brewing method keeps the natural sweetness of your tea INTACT! Thus your drink is not bitter, instead, more fruity, naturally sweet and absolutely thirst quenching!

I got my TE-A-ME ice brews in just two days and I was sold! Can you guess what is the first thing I noticed on the box? “NO ADDED SUGAR”.  And thereon, I have been on a spree!

  • Post-lunch sugar cravings? Ice brew.
  • Fancy guests at home? Serve ice brew.
  • Pre run, on run, post run drink? Ice friggin brew – tea bag goes right into my water bottle!
  • Thirsty? Ok, NOT thirsty? but need to finish the day’s water quota?
    ice brew my friend!

The good Ice brew steeps are naturally sweet, just absolute pleasant. Plus the low caffeine content in this drink keeps me fresh without getting jittery. Mind you, my skin texture has improved, my sugar calories from post-run energy drinks have decreased, and my general water consumption has increased.

Ice brews usually take a couple of hours to steep. TE-A-ME brings this to you in just 5 minutes! You can even leave the tea bags in your water jar for as long as you like.

“What is wrong with you”, my mom yelled, “I am seeing these tea bags in every water container you use.”

I was on Netflix with a beer mug, of course, without the beer. I paused my show, looked up and handed the mug to my mother. Yet another water monster was created in my house. Sometimes I wonder if I should figure a way to add a couple of tea bags in my RO, but that is taking it a bit too far.

These Cold brews, have become my new Hot 🙂