Bitter sweet symphony

teashop.jpg
A tea shop near the Valluvar Kottam bus stop

The teakadai at Saidapet looks spooky at night. At 2 a.m., this is the only shop of any kind that’s open in the area. All the rest on Anna Salai are closed. This teashop is easy to locate: it’s bang opposite the Saidapet bus stand (not bus stop because it’s far too big). The tea itself isn’t so great. But on a rainy night like yesterday, when I had the black spray of the rain on my face, the warm liquid tastes like elixir. Along with the cup cakes that look old but tasted yummy, tea drinking quickly became an experience to relish.

“Make all four cups together,” comes an order from behind me. I don’t turn around and look. I am too busy picking change for my own cup of tea. “Make them quickly,” cheers the cashier. At this unearthly hour, he seems jovial. “Cigarette, you have to go to the next shop,” he tells me.

Everything you might need for an overnight camp at someplace is sold next door. The small space at the shop is amazingly well used to store two refrigerators stocked with cool drinks, mineral water bottles and badam milk. There is a variety of snacks available too. I resist opening up my wallet for the sake of my health. Most of them are harmful as hell, I tell myself. But these days, even snacks come neatly packed and branded. So you might be able to choose your pick.

The NE monsoon having set in, it is raining round-the-clock in the city. Anytime seems good enough to have a cup of tea. I am not a great tea drinker myself. I probably need the stimulation more than the taste. I favour coffee, which sucks in most teashops in the city. All the times I have been at the Saidapet teashop, I have rarely seen it ordered. Unlike at Saravana Bhavan, which attracts the coffee-drinking middle class, the working class seems happy with their cup of tea.

An order of milk can get your stares from everyone present at any teashop. People reared on tea and coffee frown upon the idea of drinking milk. I am made to feel like a squeaky clean wimp with no vices every time I order it.
Teashops have their own routine in making vadais and bajjis, the latter is usually made only in the evening.

Tea drinking can be a near cultural experience. At the shop close to my home in Triplicane, everything from politics to cinema to the cricket score is discussed. Incidentally, I learned about India 20:20 World Cup victory in a teashop.
The teashops in Triplicane are unionised. I am unable to say what exactly the union does other than ensure that the prices remain the same at all shops.

Down the road, in another teashop, the owner has his photograph on the Lipton Tea ad, something he achieved using Photoshop, no doubt!

Photo and caption by Rakesh Ashok.

Related post: single tea + biscuit

Early last year, Vatsan wrote this is the above post:

“As time progresses, as the sun rises, and more tea shops open, more and more people throng the shops for the single tea and biscuit, the smokers, for their glass of tea and the first fag for the day…”

5 Comments so far

  1. Dilip Muraldiaran (unregistered) on October 25th, 2007 @ 3:38 am

    wow, photoshop certainly has its uses…!


  2. Madhusudanan (unregistered) on October 25th, 2007 @ 11:03 pm

    These Tea Kadais are generic to all public. One thing that fascinates me about this City is that these shops are open as early as 4.00 AM which i havent seen in any other City, except maybe Mumbai.Nothing like a cup of hot tea and a butter biscuit in the December early morning.


  3. Radman (unregistered) on October 26th, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

    nice post. i felt as if i was there with you. i prefer coffee.


  4. nandhu (unregistered) on October 27th, 2007 @ 6:40 pm

    madhusudanan, yup. pongal and tea taste great in December.

    radman, thanks. i prefer coffee too, though it’s really a close preference.


  5. Rakesh Ashok (unregistered) on October 28th, 2007 @ 7:45 pm

    Yep nothing can beat the teashops, not even the baristas, mocha, CCDs etc

    The tea shop you see in the picture is where I regularly used to take tea while going to college :)



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