Tea is, after water, the most consumed drink in the world. The brown liquid has shaped world history; empires have been built and destroyed on the quest for the leaf and it was not entirely accidental that Boston decided to choose tea for their party in 1773. Again in America tea (of a new political kind) is grabbing headlines but as I write this, I’m sipping the regular morning cup.
Of course, with my bong bhodrolok obsessions things aren’t that regular about my morning cup. This one is a white tip smoky earl grey from Chado Tea at Phoenix Mills, at roughly Rs 5,000 per kilo (I bought a mere hundred grams). Its a tea that brings together China, India and Imperial England into a single cup. Early Grey tea is a favourite of mine (and one of the few things that come reliably well from tea bags) but smoky earl grey was a first – the edginess of earl grey attached to a smoky aroma more characteristic of lapsang souchong.
I’ve blogged quite a few times about tea earlier – New York, San Francisco and a brief one on Hypercity’s rather unfortunate gourmet store (which has now, luckily, closed). By and large, though, Mumbai has been left out of my tea map – which is not entirely fair since a fair amount of fairly good tea is available here now. Quite a change from my first visit to Mumbai, where a loose tea seller asked me to choose between “Hotel Tea Grade I” and “Hotel Tea Grade II”.
Chado Tea is itself an interesting phenomenon. This chain is owned by a Los Angeles family of Indian origin, one of whose members briefly worked at IIFL (though I did not know him then). That Mumbai connection is pretty much the reason for their schizophrenic spread – three outlets in greater Los Angeles and two in Mumbai (the other in the Bombay Store at Fort). The open-air stall outside PVR in Phoenix holds at least two hundred teas of all kinds, from the somewhat pedestrian masala mixes to ultra-rare Chinese. Yerba mate, rooibos and other oddities are also present; indeed it offers a range that would warm the belly of any tea lover anywhere in the world. It’s a choice that beats many shops - even in tea meccas such as Kolkata, London or Hong Kong. The best part is – all their teas area also available by the freshly-brewed cup.
Chado has (by far) the best choice of teas in Mumbai, but it is not the only place for fine cuppas. The (really) old favourite - The Sea Lounge at the grand old Taj - is back to combining fine teas with great sunsets . There’s a separate tea (and coffee) menu that you need to ask for, but it has a wealth of teas there. Avongrove, Gopaldhara, Wiry Clonal are all noteworthy names I can recall, but there are many other worthy teas. The mezzanine Atrium Lounge at the Taj Lands End has a similar arrangement, but with less of a view. For some reason, the special tea menu is not available at the regular coffee shops of these or any of the other Taj properties.
Another small if worthy tea room is Cafe Prato at the Four Seasons at Worli. The selection is much smaller – a mere four - but the teas are nice (though pricier than either Taj). An alternate worthy at the same hotel is Aer, perched dizzyingly on top and opening at 5:30 just in time for a glorious sunset if nothing else. Its not very easy to persuade them to get you a tea up there, but its worth the effort (though you can always stick to the Long Island variety). The Oberoi at Nariman Point has recently started a fancy tea service at the Champagne Lounge in their atrium, promising spectacular sunsets and teas. Tea Centre secreted in Resham Bhavan at Churchgate offers a small selection of nice teas with old world charm – there’s a kahwa on the menu that’s particularly nice. Not too far away, Oxford Book Store hides a Cha Bar with a nice (if occassionally gimmicky) range of tea.
When buying teas for home, I must warn you that most ‘Darjeeling’ teas sold in the stores are not much good. The solitary Mumbai outlet of Lopchu has been holding fort below the New Bengal Hotel in Fort. Chamong and Chaitime have some nice teas (and good tea bags) that you can find on supermarket shelves. The Bombay Store also sells the outstanding Aap Ki Pasand teas – this used to be my favourite. However, Chado is the best tea buying experience in Mumbai by some margin; they will sell you at least a hundred kinds of tea, properly preserved in airtight jars that you can select by smelling or tasting.
Tea is one of the great benefits of civilisation. An additional bonus is that Mumbai’s sea faces the setting sun, which conveniently puts on a colourful show right at tea time. Enjoy!