tea. It was only in London that I realised the true worth of a steaming cuppa. Desperate to escape the city's dank, chilly streets, I would slip into the nearest tea parlour and proceed to demolish pots and pots of English Breakfast tea.
And so, when I returned home after my degree, along with my luggage I brought back my newfound love for tea. I began to make annual excursions to the Sea Lounge at the Taj Mahal Hotel and Towers, for its unsurpassed high tea spread. One could choose the simple afternoon tea option, with its tea cakes and golden scones slathered with clotted cream. But I always go for the big high tea spread; not only do I absorb sugary dainties and smoked salmon sandwiches but I also eat my way through the vast buffet, which includes freshly-prepared chaat, pakodas, vada pav and toasties.
(Choose from a range of high quality flavoured teas at SmartCooky- Shop Now)Sea Lounge
Of course, the Taj is largely unaffordable for weekly excursions and so I was forced to look for cheaper alternatives, one of which is Churchgate's Tea Centre (Update: Tea Centre is currently closed for renovations). Here, we could sip our first flush Darjeeling tea on crisp white tablecloths laid with brilliantly-shined cutlery to the tinkling notes of a piano. The piano is long gone, but a sort of faded glory still remains. Other than the Darjeeling, I sometimes order myself a pot of apple butter tea, which I find very soothing for sore throats. Tea Centre has a wee tea shop to its side, but you can also buy teas and elegant tea accessories at Kala Ghoda's beautiful San-Cha tea boutique. The range is bewildering but the tea sommelier is helpful and persuasive; he will ply you with endless tastes of tea and you'll be hard-pressed to come away empty-handed.
Hidden away in the warren of Fort's bylanes is the Teapot Café, a diminutive yet singularly charming café famous for its flavoured teas (apple, peach, lemon, strawberry and orange) and pastries. I can't say I've had the best tea of my life there, but its chocolate rum mousse is pretty decadent and friends swear by the two-egg akuri and toast.
Most Irani cafés serve great brewed tea. I especially enjoy Kyani's Irani chai, not very stridently flavoured, just a simple, milky cup of tea taken with flaky bun maska. This was a cheap treat during my college days and I still go there for tea after watching a movie at Metro.
Above the Good Earth store in Lower Parel sits another favourite of mine - The Tasting Room. The restaurant is stylishly appointed, with coral-coloured walls, candelabras and silk cushions - perfect for a languid tea. Order a plateful of jammy scones and dainty finger sandwiches, all washed down with your tea of choice.
The Tasting Room
Bandra has recently seen a spurt of Johnny-come-lately tea rooms. The tiny one on Perry Road called XVII Tea Room is done up Parisian style and serves fine cakes together with vegetarian snacks (think bruschetta and chilli cheese toast). Its collection of teas is fairly extensive and includes unusually-flavoured hot teas, such as the chai crème, orange chai and mulled apple (black tea, apple and spices are a winning combination in my book).
XVII Tea Room
Another prettily-attired tearoom in Bandra is TheTea Place by Manjushree. It's all done up in white with a dusting of gold - even your tea comes in pretty white china cups with a gold rim. There are some excellent teas on offer here - the Darjeeling vintage collection tea and the Imperial Ivory White China tea come to mind. So expensive but worth it.
At Bandra Reclamation, you will find a gaggle of teenagers hanging out at Chaayos. Chaayos is already a popular chain in Delhi and no wonder because it marries the aesthetics of Barista with the prices of an Irani café (Rs 55 for cutting chai). It doesn’t have the widest selection of teas, but is an excellent place if you want Indian chais (pahadi chai, lemony Sulemani) in salubrious environs. A big plus is that you can mix and match your teas to your taste.
The nicest of all though is the Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea House, thanks to its vintage styling, spacious rooms and pleasant Hindustani classical music. A large bouquet of teas are offered here, with teas from the house of Brooke Bond naturally predominating; the strong, spicy Bold Spices tea is especially delicious. French chef, Gregory Bazire, has whipped up an accompanying menu of tea-infused dishes - I have my eye on the kingfish poached in oolong tea but there are plenty of desi snacks too.
Harried office goers in Bandra Kurla Complex can trundle towards Tea Trails, yet another tea chain. Its website claims that it is India's first tea café chain: started in 2013, it now has five outlets, in BKC, Andheri, Malad, Mulund and Thane. Tea-totallers amble in for the afternoon tea, the bubble tea and my favourite kullad chai served in its delightful clay cup. But you can also try the caffeine-free tisanes and the Argentinean mate, which is supposedly packed with antioxidants - all the speciality teas are accompanied by instructions, so you know exactly how long to steep your tea for the perfect sip.
Further north in Vile Parle lies the Wagh Bakri Tea Lounge. The Wagh Bakri brand of teas is more than a century old and its name "symbolises the co-existence of one and all creating long-lasting relationships in society by dissolving differences over a good cup of tea," according to the company website. The most popular tea is the Masala Chai but it also has a fairly large range of cold teas, including milk tea served with ice cream. This is not (forgive the pun) my cup of tea. Instead, I tend to gravitate towards the organic Darjeeling green tea for its gentle, sheathed flavour and glorious honey colour.
Wagh Bakri Tea Lounge
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Growing up in India, I never appreciated the charm of a good cup of