My main source for high-quality teas is my friend Kishore Mariwala of Bombay.  Kishore is a connoisseur of many things: Hindustani music, tea, single malts to name three.  Our friendship began when he wrote to Mint two years ago, commenting on a piece I had written on coffee.  I have, with his permission, reproduced the letter below, mostly because it gives helpful tips about how to drink fine tea: water temperature and such.

Kishore, as you will see below, has a eye for detail and is perfectionist about his teas.

Every now and then, Kishore will courier me some tea he has found.  To the point where I cannot drink normal milky tea.  I drink Kashmiri Kehwa at my friend, Kavita’s house, and recently, Kavita has joined my pantheon of tea experts by producing a fabulously complext tea.  It comes from a box, and yes, (Kishore’s comment below notwithstanding), it has teabags, albeit pyramid-shaped.  Kavita sent me Lipton’s tea infusions.  I have tried several at her house but the best is Moroccan Mint.  I don’t like Mint tea but this one has all kinds of other spices in it: fennel? cinnamon? I have been enjoying a big pot of it every morning and evening.

Now read Kishore’s letter. He is a chemical engineer.

—– Forwarded by Bhavna/bizpaper/del/htl on 09/14/2009 03:10 PM —–

From: Kishore Mariwala <>
To: [email protected]
Date: 09/14/2009 02:26 PM
Subject: “Raise a cup to chicory—-“

Hello Shobha,
I am Kishore Mariwala, a regular reader of your column “The Good Life” in yesterday’s “Lounge”.  I particularly enjoyed the yesterday’s column  “Raise a cup to chicory, all ye coffee snobs” . In that article you ask if “chaiwallas” dissect their chai like the coffee wallas who dissect their coffee.  

I am, considered  a “Tea, Coffee and Single malt whisky snob” in my circle of friends and relatives.  I can comment at length on all the three of  my favourite beverages. However, since my name does not even remotely sound like a South Indian, I will refrain from commenting on coffee. The single malts are in  another class altogether so thy also are out!
I will restrict my comments on Tea only. 
Firstly, just as it is sacrosanct to dilute single malt with water and a blasphemy to dilute it with soda, it is blasphemy to dilute tea  with milk, lime  or sugar. 
The only exceptions are

  • a well made cup of  masala chai  on a rainy day, to have such chai  with onion pakodas.

Secondly, Blended teas to be avoided except under special circumstances (described below).
Tea Bags can not enter my house!  I consider them obscene! 

Over the years I have categorised Teas on the undermentioned scale:

Top rung:   Undoubtedly Single estate First Flush or second flush teas. 
For mornings, Second flush (or autumn flush). It has a little stronger flavour, good to wake up with;  for afternoons, first flush which is milder but  distinctly aromatic- touch of floral- 

Source: After many many years an trying out many sources, I have zeroed in on: “Tea Emporium” at Darjeeling. 
When I see my jar(s) running out, I call up Sanjeev Mitra. We discuss the merits or demerits of the last consignment. 
He then  who rattles off a list of latest arrivals with his recommendations.
Having known my taste for many years now, he knows exactly what I would like. At times he calls up on his own if he thinks that he has struck quality gold, he calls up immediately to inform me that he has despatched a packet to me. 
To any one who agrees with my assessment of Darjeeling teas I recommend him strongly. 

Second rung (far below the first one) : Nilgiri, High Range, Sri Lanka. 
No match to Darjeeling but tolerable. Some tea from Tata Estates in Munnar are good! come close to Darjeeling but not very close. 
Chinese: Good for green teas but have not yet come across a black tea comparable to Darjeeling. 
Assam: Low on flavour, heavy liquor. Has a special use described below.
Kenya, Kangra etc. ; Not to be considered! Good for Russians. 

Japanese make a lot of sense in evolving the institution of “Tea Ceremony” ! It has to be a ceremony if  you want a real good cup of tea!
Tea leaves: my proportion is 1/2  tea spoon per cup but varies depending the flavour strength of a particular variety, which flush it is from.
Water:  Water: has to be very fresh; soft; salinity below 200 ppm. Heat it just to boiling. Stop heating, letit cool for a minute or two and add measured quantity. 
Brew for 3 to 5 minutes (depending on taste) .
Never use metal tea pot. Has to be glass or ceramic. I prefer clear glass since I like to see the liquor and the beauty of the leaves as they unfold and assume their original shape and colour! 
So that is how it goes. 
Now let me talk about the Masala Chai ceremony to go with Onion Pakodas in monsoon. 
Tea: a blend of 1/3  to 1/2 Assam Tea. 2/3rd to 1/2 Darjeeling tea (need not be the most expensive one)
Other ingredients: Freshly grated fresh ginger; some leaves of lemon grass chopped into 1/2″  to 1″ length and including some thick portion from near the roots; a few mint leaves (avoid stems)
Boil in water for about 5 minutes. Strain out all the leaves, ginger Add  required prpoortion of sugar..
Add skimmed milk . (Skimmed to ensure that the cup when offered does mot have that unsightly skin often seen in chaiwalla’s chai. Proportion of milk to water: 1/2 & 1/2  or personal choice. 
Bring the milk-water-sugar to boil on high elame. When boiling and rolling, add 1 Tea spoon of the Assam- Darjeeling leaves mixture per cup.Stie it in. 
The concoction will foam and try to come up. Just as it approaches the top edge, lower the flame and let foam subside. When it subsides, restart high flame and let it get another boil over. When it reaches the top edge, switch pff heating and cover the cessel with a lid. Let it stand for 3 minutes and strain it out in a cup or a preheated pot, Enjoy with onion pakodas. 
This masala chai does not belong to the category of Darjeeling tea. For me it is another beverage altogether !
So Shobha, that is the discourse from a Chaiwalla !
You may have found it a little too long but then I was talking about my Goddess! 
*********END OF KISHORE LETTER*******

I have preserved this letter because it has two of the three things necessary for good op-ed writing: deep knowledge on the subject and strong opinions.  The third neccessary thing, of course, is the desire to write and be published and the polishing of your craft, which Kishore doesn’t have time for mostly because he is sailing his yacht on Bombay harbour.

I am going to email this post to Kishore Mariwala and Stanley Pinto: connoisseurs and dictators both.  May their tribe increase. Oh, and will email Kavita too: my latest tea connoisseur.


Subscribe to my newsletter