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.