I confess to being a bit of a chai snob.
Having consumed flavourful high grown Nilgiri tea at its source for decades, and brewed the propah English way, it would be an understatement to say I am picky about my tea. I detest the thick, sugary, milky cha/chai served in homes across India and when I visit my city-friends (ex planters know better :-)) I am usually expected to make my own tea or opt for coffee.
The flavour of my tea is obviously dependent on the quality of the leaf that goes in, and of late, the tea bags I use, and I even carry my favourite brands with me when I travel.
Mom, who scoffed at my watery ‘phoren‘ brew and dismissed it as ‘ditch water’, was different though. She always managed to turn out perfect tea that varied little in flavour regardless of whether it was brewed from fine packaged dust or fragrant orthodox leaves from the Nilgiris or the stronger CTC from Munnar supplied by my brother in law (also an ex tea planter). We marveled at the consistency of her decoction and after much debate arrived at the conclusion that it was the clear, sweet local water that enhanced its flavour. But my sister jokingly attributed it to the fraying, dismal brown muslin rag mom used to strain the leaves.
We were surprised by how much we enjoyed tea from the chaiwallahs on our road trip across UP last September and in Calcutta during Christmas. With the milk and sugar toned down and just a hint of ‘masala’, we consumed some of our best tea since mum’s passing.
And I swear, the ones using brown stained muslin for strainers were distinctly more flavourful:-)