Tea Fables

Tea time – Tamil Nadu

September 26, 2015

Owing to 3 years of college in Tamil Nadu, the place holds a special place in my heart. Today’s post is dedicated to the tea culture in Tamil Nadu, India. Tea time – Tamil Nadu

The state of Tamil Nadu is home to the mountainous Nilgiri district. It is renowned for its distinctive dark and intensely aromatic tea. The tea estates are just as extraordinary as the tea itself.

T?n?r (tea, in traditional Tamil) has been grown for more than a 100 years. It is considered to be the most important industry in the region. Right from street-side shops to café’s to homes’, classic milk tea with a foamy top is a staple drink. Of late there has been a rise in the number of specialty teahouses in the region that offer a wide variety of teas from around the globe.

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Thousands of tea Kadai’s punctuate the streets of Tamil Nadu, with chai walla’s (person who makes chai) pulling the tea with expert precision.
What draws attention to the tea is the showmanship and skill involved in its preparation. The tea is prepared in a stainless steel vessel with a deep base. The tea leaves are steeped in water after which milk is added to it. Samovars (tea urn) are also used in certain places.

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Image source: http://blog.jaypore.com

Pulling tea

Pouring the brew between two containers is not just impressive looking, but also improves its taste by mixing the tea and the milk thoroughly. This gives it a smoother, creamier texture and a lovely frothy top. The pulling process also helps to cool the tea down faster.

The tea is served either in small stainless steel tumblers or glass tumblers. People prefer their tea either black (Karuppu t?n?r) or with milk (P?l t?n?r).

The two-tumbler system

The two-tumbler system is practiced widely in interior Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Local hotels and teashops would serve different tumblers to the “upper” caste and Dalits (a member of the lowest caste).

The apex court has described the two-tumbler system as “highly objectionable” and has termed it as an offense under the SC/ST Act. Due to the involvement of the court, the practice has undergone many changes to escape the attention of monitoring agencies. For instance, Dalits were given tea in separate glass tumblers. In order to prevent the mixing of tumblers owners used red/yellow/green paint marks on the bottom of tumblers meant for Dalits.


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Although it is disheartening how social evils prevail even in the manner in which a cup of tea is served, government involvement and a court ruling are appeasing.
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An infusion of four basic elements: powdered black tea, milk, sliced ginger and crushed cardamom is what makes a classic milk tea blend.

A cup of full-fat milk infuses with an inch piece of sliced fresh ginger and a gently crushed piece of cardamom. As the blend starts to boil add a teaspoon of good quality black tea. For the spices to infuse well, allow it to boil and simmer for a couple of cycles. Steep the brew for 3-4 minutes until you are satisfied with the strength of the tea. Add sugar or honey as per taste. If you prefer honey, add it only once the blend has cooled down to room temperature. Finally, pull the tea between two tumblers to give it a nice foamy top.

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Looking back on memories of childhood trips to different tea estates in Kerala and Tamil Nadu make me wish that I had been better equipped. A camera and a journal to capture and write elaborately on the hidden treasures and stories of those misty tea hills.

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