Come autumn and the gentle breeze is laden with the fragrant aroma of Sheuli (night flowering Jasmine), the landscape a mass of white Kash phool (wild sugar cane) amidst the green, a signal that the festive season is round the corner.
Across India, Sharad Navaratri is observed. During those nine nights Ma Durga is worshipped in her different incarnations. While Pujas and rituals are observed during the days, evenings are for religious dance forms to worship the Goddess. If in Gujarat folks celebrate by swaying to the vibrant music and indulge in the hugely popular and traditional dance form ‘Garbha’, in Bengal it is the ‘Dhunuchi’ dance accompanied by the booming beat of the ‘dhak’
For the Bengali, the countdown begins on Mahalaya six days ahead of MahaSaptami when Devi Mahamaya begins her annual journey from her abode, Mount Kailash to her parental home down earth along with her four children Laxmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Karthik.
Mahalaya also marks the end of pitri paksha and the beginning of the auspicious Devi paksha, the new moon day in the month of Ashwin.
The City of Joy is decked up like a bejeweled princess, life comes to a complete halt as pandal hopping, food stalls and of course the ‘adda’ and ‘cha’ becomes an integral part of life for those four days.
Tea is literally what keeps the average Bengali going and Kolkata is a city obsessed with its cha. The Kolkatan’s characteristic adda, the endless discussion, the roadside vendor serving chai in earthen tea cups is what keeps the city so alive, so vibrant.
From the Best of Darjeeling infusions to the street version ‘cha’, Kolkata’s interest in tea is unparalleled. Be it the local chaiwala, the mid-segment stall or the high end tea outlet –it is always bustling and business has always been good.
The very British way of having tea with milk and sugar led to the blending of Assam or Assam-Darjeeling that could take milk and additives like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon etc., while ensuring it indulges the Bengali taste buds used to the peppery fare.
Darjeeling tea has been an all-time favourite of the Bengalis. Most of them being tea connoisseurs can easily distinguish tea based on the blends, origin, the aroma and colour.
Flushes refer to the time of plucking tea leaves and Darjeeling tea is characterized by the four seasons-spring, summer, monsoon and autumn.
From the first flush to the last harvest, the essence of the tea changes from light and delicate to more concentrated and full bodied.
The tea leaves plucked in spring have less moisture hence a bit astringent. This highly sought after first flush uses youngest tender leaves and has a delicate fresh flavor. It is less oxidized during processing, looks greener than the average black tea. No wonder tea connoisseurs consider it as the ‘champagne of teas’.
The second flush is plucked as early as April, has more moisture, can be rolled out better and we get that distinctive flavor, highly aromatic cup of Darjeeling tea.
Teas from the monsoon flush which runs from July to September is stronger ,bolder and often used to make ice tea and commercially this tea is used in tea bags
The autumnal flush teas plucked in the months of October to November produces a deep brown liquor and has a rich full flavor.
Chai is somewhat healthy. Apart from the rich polyphenol content which help to detoxify cell damaging free radicals, few spices when added to tea also aids in destressing. Ginger and cardamom helps in the digestive process. Cloves, pepper and cinnamon are warming –overall an invigorating drink.
Kolkata is passionate about tea and what could be a better time to rediscover it than Durga Puja. The right time to reconnect with one’s family and friends over a cup of Darjeeling.
A cup of water is boiled in a utensil with crushed ginger, sugar and cardamom (optional) for about 2 minutes. Tea leaves is added and brewed for another minute. The mixture is allowed to settle in for a minute before it is strained and poured into a cup.
Alternately one can use honey instead of sugar. There –that’s my favourite cup of cha.