MERI WALI CHAI KAHAN HAI?
Ironically, with the chain of Chai bars and native & international coffee chains thriving across the country, a desi chai & kaffi lover yearns for that typical regular, meri wali chai which a person has grown up drinking.
If you ask for regular chai, most cafes and chai places put masala – complementary into the chai. Please don’t. We do not want add ons! Suppose you are not that lucky and get into a multiplex to watch a film that gives you a throbbing headache. You will not find your kind of chai (without any add on, tea Masala, to say the least) at the counter despite shelling out some fat money that can take care of a month’s chai expense for your entire household and guest as well.
A karak (strong) chai concept seems to have shrugged away ruthlessly to replace the end number of chai options on the menu card. Some of the combinations unheard of – aam papad chai, mirch chai, ajwain & saunf chai, are we preparing food tempering here? And despite all the jazz, it’s not milk served by the side but sugar.
My experience is when one adds sugar to ready tea, the beverage loses its taste and no more remains piping hot. Even when one gives instructions as asked for doodh kam, paani kam, full dhoodh. So many directions as if absorbing a reader manual. Eventually, what gets served as a reward is nowhere close to your expectations. Better to go home, enjoy the aroma of your personal favourite tea leaves as the pot simmers on the gas stove, and you know what’s coming. We are a tea drinking nation, and our palate craves for desi, authentic.
The mistreatment is the same, the age-old coffee is also not spared. I squirm when asked to make a coffee choice at places like Starbucks or our native CCD. At one point in time, it was a trend to do meetings at these swanky outlets. Latte, cappuccino, Americano, espresso, flat white, pumpkin spice latte, café mocha and the menu reads more. The story remains the same; we are used to sniffing our old Nescafe or filter coffee, woh kaunsi wali hai? Unlike westerners, we are used to drinking tea and coffee, which could be multiple times during the day but in cups, not in jugs or jars
And what I find dispelling is when coffee gets served in disposables. The fun part of going to Starbucks is listening to some creative names that guests spin out at the counter while ordering their favourite latte.
Over a decade now, when being insisted in a meeting for a beverage, with all courtesy, I ask for coffee, which thankfully in most cases is premixed-machine made, and its taste is familiar, not taken by the surprise.
There is a whole new tea and coffee culture that has evolved in the country leaving behind the history of old coffee houses and chai ki tapri chit-chat. From the past, spending some friendly leisure time at these places the new generation has come a long way, only to replace recreation with remote meetings and stressful conversations.
Although during the current times when the fear of pandemic is still not over and memories of lives lost are fresh, stepping out to market places or visiting these chirping tea-coffee bars rekindles faith and encouragement of a different kind. People are slowly pacing back into their lives. The quarantine shells are broken; I hope we can duck the third wave.