A Cup that Cheers!!

Among one of my most ardent secret desires has been this half-baked dream of running a small tea shop on a nippy yet picturesque hill station. I'd love to brew a variety of teas and served not in grubby glass tumblers, but filigreed cups and saucers, with home-made cookies and savories. Somehow I think it is impossible to separate the powerful bohemian association I have had with a cup of steaming tea.

If I were playing a game of word association and someone was to ask me to conjure up a lot of cheer, I would immediately think of a cup of tea. You might drink tea the oriental, the continental or simply the Asian way, but no matter how you do it, a cup of tea always brings a smile to people's faces and a sense of comfort that spreads like a soft warm glow from within. I often wonder how the dark dried leaves of a diminutive shrub can hold such great potential to conjure up so much magic in people's minds. But the truth is that poets, writers and thinkers have poured out their angst on paper with inspiration from little else but endless cups of tea.

I have thousands of happy tea-laced memories. The best one is that of stopping at a small hill-station in the lap of the Himalayas and having very syrupy tea in shiny and tall brass tumblers. The tea had the acrid flavor of the coal on which it was brewed and yet it seemed the perfect drink to have on a cold morning to sooth the vertigo that a winding, uphill and bumpy bus ride had given.

I do have very diverse tastes in tea. I love the gently brewed, green flavor of the perfect Darjeeling tea, served in delicate blue china and tinkling with the melody of a small spoon slowly stirring in a lump of sugar and its fresh aroma titillating the senses.

And yet I simply cannot do without my morning cup of strong ginger tea that helps me clear my head, soothes my aches and pains and gets me cracking on a fresh new day.

I don't mind the Indian masala tea which is more of milk and less of tea, brewed with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and a couple of more spices. It has a place of pride in the tree of evolution as teas go.

Meant to tune

Then you have the myriad flavored teas that spoil you for choice and you can expect to find the variety if you were to come home for tea - there's lemon, chamomile, jasmine, peach, orange and even cinnamon - flavors that are meant to tune you to your inner harmonies.

I am not surprised that during the colonial days, tea was considered to be a princely treasure locked away in treasure chests and used sparingly as it wasn't so easily available.

It brings to mind a very funny penchant my friend's grandmother had. She would always dedicate her sorrows and anger to tea. Brought up in military traditions, she believed in control and understatement. So instead of throwing things or uttering a volley of abuses, she had chosen this least offensive path of celebrating her sulks and grief over an elaborate tea ceremony.

When upset, she would just withdraw to her room and spend a sleepless night listening to devotional songs and ring the bell for a pot of tea to be delivered to the room as early as five in the morning. For the rest of the day, her meal would be endless cups of tea and some biscuits; she did not have to say anything as the servants just knew they had to refill the pot the moment it was empty. It often took her husband a lot of effort that we billed as "tea diplomacy" to work out the thaw. When the stand-off would get over, she would revert to her one cup a day quota.

The only way to end this tea tattle is to wind up and settle down with a happy cup myself.