My Cup of Tea
I confess. I am a “High-tea” addict. Over the years I have partaken of the British tradition of the classic High tea in all the gastronomique meccas. In all of London’s legendary hotels, The Ritz, The Lanesbrough and The Dorchester. And now joy of joys! I find that this elegant tradition has crossed the Atlantic and is as, if not more beautiful and memorable in NYC. But first an open letter to the creator of the High tea.
I raise a toast to the very British tradition of high tea (ofcourse I do it with a cup of the finest Earl Grey tea)!
BRITISH HIGH TEA
Over the years, I’ve been sipping and tasting my way through many a high-tea in London’s legendary hotels and each time I salute Duchess Anna of Bedford for having sent out the invite for “tea and a walk in the fields” over a hundred and fifty years ago. The lovely lady set in motion the most dainty of all culinary traditions.
I raise many a toast to the most legendary, the highly-awarded and the worlds best High teas (which Ive partaken of)…London’s grand historic hotels, The Ritz, The Dorchester, The Lanesbrough and even The Ritz in Madrid and Paris. An amazing tradition which evolved with time…of tea service, side plates, bread and butter plates, cake stands, and every conceivable accompaniment advancing across the drawing room. Tea gardens, tea dances , a whole code of etiquette followed. Now, Tea Council Inspectors check standards and coveted awards are given every year for the Top London Afternoon Tea and Top Tea Place.
Not just the domain of the society grand dames, this tradition is hugely popular with the younger fashionable set too.
CHINESE TEA CEREMONY
Quite different from the British High tea is the Chinese Tea ceremony. I have attended only one such ceremony where tea was made in small clay teapots. The pot rinsed with boiling water and then tea leaves added to the pot using chopsticks or a bamboo scoop. “The art of preparing and making tea is called Cha Dao” informs my Chinese host. I enjoy the way the cups are arranged in a circle and the server pours the tea in all of them in one go.
I notice that he fills the cups just over half way. I am told that the Chinese believe that the rest of the cup is filled with friendship and affection. What a delicious thought!
JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY
Known for their stylish and elegant Chanoyu, the Sencha ceremonies, these are worth partaking of.The Chanoyu ceremony takes place in a wooden or bamboo teahouse called a Chashitsu. Plenty of wonderful rules around being calm, washing hands enjoying the Teishu making the tea using powdered green tea called ‘matcha’ and sitting on the floor around a low table.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Sure all the High teas and tea ceremonies Ive attended have been fabulous, but this one, here in Bangalore is easily the best. Please take a look at the photograph Ive shot. Time stands still, luxurious high tea from another era is flamboyantly served under the 150 year old Rain tree. Every detail in this 125 year old beauty of a landmark Taj Westend hotel is perfect. The Taj West End was started as a 10 bed genteel boarding house for upper class English Gentlemen by the Bronsons in 1887 and today remains at the top of the world class hotels. I take many trips back in time here in all their bespoke experiences they’re offering to celebrate history. From getting high on their Heritage Champagne Walk, admiring the oldest and first red colored Post Box operational till date, soaking in the Art Corridor to sitting under the magnificent Rain tree which is older than the hotel and has stood tall since 1848. Here with the charming colonial 1905 block as backdrop in the Mynt Lawns, I choose from a selection of delectable treats.
Along with this Art of High Tea an inspiration from the Colonial era (with a menu crafted for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians)The brilliant executive Chef Sandip Narang having honed his mastery all over the world and set up award winning restaurants in India also offers a well contemplated Anglo Indian Menu that draws inspiration from the British Raj, of western dishes infused with spices and other local ingredients. At the Westend’s High tea, take your pick… open sandwich of smoked salmon, cucumber and dill sandwich, crispy fish finger with tartare sauce, lemon tart, frosted cupcakes, coffee macaroons, strawberries in chocolate to name a few. Pair it with a wide ranging tea selection from Darjeeling to Monking Jasmine, Earl Grey and Egyptian Camomile.
I’ve been passionately in love with The Westend and been visiting it since many decades. It’s old world charm and colonial architecture blends with the high tech and amazing restaurants (including India’s first Vietnamese restaurant, Blue Ginger) weave a memorable spell, The dynamic Somnath Mukherjee ensures that each and every detail is perfect. Over the years, staying in these cottages interspersed over 20 acres of lush greenery and spreading canopies of trees has always been magical for me. I’m fascinated to learn that it was under these trees that Nobel prize winner Ronald Ross discovered the cure for malaria. It was here that Sir Winston Churchill often dined as a Cigar – smoking war journalist; and later went on to become the Prime minister of Britain. It is here that under the ancient Rain tree that I sip (literally too) 125 years of legendary history. This is most certainly, my cup of tea.