The cup that cheers
   Date :26-May-2023

cup that cheers 
THE World Tea Day was celebrated recently. The souls of the Chinese emperor who accidentally discovered the drink and the tree that had been shedding its leaves for years without anyone taking a second look at them must be wondering how the beverage became so famous in all corners of the world. During my childhood, no one had heard of green tea or tea bags. A morning without a glass of tea was unimaginable. There were a few teashops near my home. They were called so even though tea was only one of the items sold there apart from coffee and dishes like idlis and dosas in the morning. Most menfolk would walk towards the nearest shop early in the morning, sit on one of the benches kept outside the shop, and order tea from the bare-chested owner standing before the wood-fired hearths with copper pots of different sizes on them with boiling water, hot milk and other items. Most people ordered tea without milk mainly because they were cheaper than that with milk and partly because they had the original flavour of tea grown in the estates of the neighbouring districts.
There was a fishing village with no teashops across the river. Men would cross the river that flowed between our villages in their small country boats and head towards their regular teashops. While returning, most would carry parcels of idlis or dosas for the other family members. Tea was made in a style unique to Kerala. After deftly mixing the ingredients of the concoction in a tall metal glass, the beverage was ‘cooled’ by pouring it to and fro between two mugs before pouring it into a glass. It was jocularly called ‘one-metre tea’, referring to the vertical distance between the mugs when the tea was poured. The more the distance, the fluffier the froth and the tea would be tastier if there was more froth. While waiting for the beverage, the customers would go through the day’s Malayalam newspaper, each detachable sheet in different people’s hands, and discuss the day’s news items heatedly. As the readers would have allegiance to several political parties, it would be a heated discussion, but they remained friends. Tea was the drink offered when one visited another house, and nobody bothered to ask the quantity of sugar to be added. Whether it was a drink mixed with milk depended on the availability of milk in the house, and again no one bothered to ask if one preferred black tea or one with milk.
Teashops were usually a family affair with the parents managing them with grown children rending a helping hand. The dosa batter would be prepared with soaked ‘urad’, fenugreek and parboiled rice the previous evening in a large grinding stone with a heavy mortar and pestle. The same stone would be used to make coconut chutney in the morning. Perhaps believing in the Chinese saying that tea awakens the mind and arouses the senses but calms the heart, numerous glasses of tea were drunk when children burnt midnight oil during examination time. It was believed sleep would not go near a glass of black tea.