In most Indian households,breakfast is not complete without a steaming cup of chai. Traditionally prepared with milk,sugar and sometimes spices such as cardamom,cinnamon or ginger,tea is said to be the worlds most consumed beverage,apart from water. But for Jaipur-based tea taster,Mridul Tiwari,tea is much more than just a brewed beverage; it is a way of life. One of the only two women tea auctioneers in the country,Tiwari and her family have been growing fine Darjeeling tea blends for over five generations now. She is the first taster and auctioneer in the line,using her expertise and extensive family history to make a mark in the male-dominated enterprise of tea auctioning.
The British implemented the highly organised system of tea auctioning in India, says Tiwari,adding,There are six tea auctioning cities in the country and they operate on the same basic principles applied in auctioning art or antiques.
As a tea connoisseur,Tiwari says that one can see,smell and taste the quality. There are two methods of determining the price and quality of the tea that is to be auctioned. One method is to send it to a laboratory and get the caffeine,carbon and polyphenol contents checked. The other method is a qualitative one, she says.
Explaining the process,Tiwari says that one must first see the tea blend,colour,texture,leaves,liquor (the liquid produced after steeping tea leaves),then smell it and then,finally taste it. The flavour of tea is also dependent upon the kind of leaves that have been plucked. The younger the leaf,the more flavorful the tea. A fine pluck often means that only the buds of the new growth have been plucked,whereas a coarse pluck means that older leaves were plucked. A normal pluck is when the traditional,two leaves and a bud are plucked. Newer varieties of teas such as white teas often include fine pluck of just the newest buds,and tend to produce lighter colour teas which are quite flavourful, she says.
Tiwari draws a parallel to wine tasting. Just like wine,we take a sip of the liquor,swirl it around in the mouth,and then spit it out immediately to know its fullness and flavour, she says.
Tiwaris own brand,Kamelia,can be found in leading hotels across the country; her secret being the use of whole leaves of the tea plant instead of tea dust,which lends the tea a full aroma,body,colour and taste. Now,she has worked with Pune-based Suhimi Enterprises and created a range of fortified teas.
Talking about tea-drinking traditions across the world,Tiwari says that the Oriental world considers it as an experience rather than an act. For Indians,tea is a daily activity. The blends and concoctions change according to the geography,so do tastes and preferences. With or without milk,with or without sugar and the range of add-ons is vast, she says,citing popular examples such as adrak-wali chai,malai-wali chai and the 100 km-wali chai,the last one preferred by truck drivers.
Tea is a personal thing,as is the brew you choose. Nobody else has the exact same blend,and nobody else can make it like you can, she states. So is tea and cakes the new wine and cheese? It is a healthier option,definitely, she says.