Thursday, 12 January 2017

Tea Zen and Chai wallahs

The video
This is the Oriental section in James Bateman's garden Biddulph Grange. 
James Bateman was here for 30 years from 1842, and built 
the house as an Italianate villa and the garden, with the 
help of his friend the famous marine artist Edward Cook.

In 1869 Bateman left the Grange and moved to London 
where he lived in a house rented from Edward Cooke 
close to Hyde Park. Bateman left his son John to sell the 
property, which by the time he left in 1872 had a 
mortgage of £30,000 which in today’s money is close to 
£2 million.

The National Trust of England
To see the full garden go here

Since I was a young 4 year old I had a liking for tea, its ritual and practice.  As usual little did I know at the age of 4 when sitting in the back yard of our simple fibro house in Hamilton that one day I would travel to China, Sri Lanka, Japan and India to walk the back roads of tea plantations.  In fact one of my earliest and most enjoyable early childhood memories is telling mum my brother and I were going into the back yard to drink tea on our little chairs and tables.  We must have had our own pot and tea set so the game of tea was on.

India Nepal Sikkim

My first trip to the Himalayan foothills was in 1978 after I arrived in Calcutta around the festival of colours or Holi.  In this time the streets are filled with revelers with bright coloured dye water and they splash anyone in sight and drench one in color.

At the time I did not know the significance of Holi and was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the people on the streets as I took a taxi to the crowded central station in Calcutta.

What surprised me the most was the uninhibited nature of the Indian population as they danced in the streets, poor people cooked and ate and slept in the streets and sang on trains. Coming from a western background or Anglo German Irish heritage I noticed myself as being very formal, stiff and lacking in patience and seeking physical boundaries, and space.  I soon realized that these boundaries either don't exist in India or are very very different to other nations.

Chai Walla's Tea and meditation

Over the many years travelling India and Asia I have found solace and contemplation in tea shops and tea hideaways.  In India the Chai wallah is a national icon, a treasure in the days before commercialization especially.  The chai in itself is a home made mix of spices including nutmeg,ginger, cinnamon, and cardamon seeds as the most common ingredients. If one wishes to be exotic there is star anise, cumin, black pepper, vanilla, to add.

The tea maker himself in India at best has a certain calm and reflective personality and aura.  In many a hot and dusty day in the streets and bazaars of Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay or any provincial town I have sought the refuge of the Chai shop.

The Chai shop is a refuge from the dust and the noise, the heat and the constancy of traffic and human activity in Indian streets.  Often chai shops are tucked down secluded streets with little traffic and its often not obvious to find them. 
When I set up in a hotel after I have rested and settled my first jaunts in  the area will be to search out the chai shop and its Wallah. Wallah in Hindi means "man of" hence tea man or Chai Wallah.  To be a good wallah one must be fair, patient and able to make many chai's quickly and perfectly.

A good wallah will be very concentrated and only speak when necessary.  The room will be quiet in the middle of the day and he will be stationed there taking all comers day in day out. 

My old friend Ram Prasad from Benares once told me that his father told him that the British banned Indians drinking black tea or China tea in the colonial period and that Indians set up sly tea shops. This is the way his father set up. Indians were expected to only drink spiced tea without the leaves. This herbal tea was an ayurvedic type drink  Here are some recipes Chai  


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