The New Face of Tea-rrorism


The New Face of Tea-rrorism

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

You know what rhymes with fleabag? Teabag; and never have two words been as easily interchangeable. If you’re reading this at work (and you probably are), there’s a good chance that you’re sipping on a cup of coffee or chai from your office pantry. If you’re drinking coffee, you’re in the clear, but if your beverage of choice happens to be tea, you’re pretty much screwed. The teabag, that perennial pretender to the chai throne, is here to ruin your drink.

As a kid visiting the offices of my dad and the uncles scattered across the city, I always found it curious that all their offices had a chaiwallah right outside the compound gates. I had noticed a pantry, and even fancy coffee machines in some of these offices, so what need was there for an outside chaiwallah?

I finally discovered the answer to this years-old question when I got my first job. There, as the clueless trainee trying to look productive and not get in the way of anybody important, I found myself taking long breaks. I was pretty useless too, so if I had taken a smoke break every time I had some free time I would have become a sought-after model for the warning labels on the cigarette packets. This meant I had to mix it up – smoke break, chai break, smoke break, chai break; on and on until quitting time.

It was during those chai breaks that I came to a horrifying realisation. Whenever there’s a large group of people who are likely to be drinking a lot of chai, many caterers/hosts/pantry staff resort to a low-down, dirty, cheap bait-and-switch. Yep, they roll out the teabags. Those limp, soggy, pathetic parcels of anti-flavour that sink to the bottom of your cup and fester there like a bad memory.

I realise that this might sound extreme, but if time travel was invented, I’d use it to go back in time and kill the person who invented teabags. That’s right. I wouldn’t save Gandhi, or kill Hitler, or do anything that might rewrite human history in any significant way. I would happily use the most advanced technology made by the best and brightest minds amongst mankind to protect my beloved chai from the depredations of these bag-dipping maniacs.

A teabag can’t hold the smell of adrak and elaichi brewing in the pot, nor can it contain the hissing sound of the stove as it blends the flavours into a perfect symphony.

This feels like a point where I should qualify my hatred of an inanimate object lest I come across as a rabid, frothing maniac. But that would mean admitting that my hatred was anything but rabid and frothing. I detest everything teabags represent: laziness, shortcuts, and unnecessary “modern” innovations. Nothing sucks more than pulling a teabag out of your cup, and watching that absorbent bastard take half your chai out with him. Factor in the weakness of flavour that’s a complementary feature of all teabags, and then you have to put in two of the suckers to get anything resembling tasty chai. My hatred of the things can be proven through simple mathematics. If one teabag soaks up 50 per cent of your drink, then two soak up the whole 100 per cent, leaving you with a vaguely brown mixture of milk and hot water at the bottom of your cup.

“It’s quick!” shout some teabag fans. “It’s easy!” shout some more. “It’s convenient!” screams a whole host of deluded idiots. What they fail to realise is that they are partaking in tea-crophilia. It’s like necrophilia, except you’re defiling the corpse of what could have once been a perfect cup of chai. A simple fabric pouch on a string is woefully inadequate to deliver a premium chai-drinking experience. A bag can’t hold the smell of adrak and elaichi brewing in the pot, nor can it contain the hissing sound of the stove as it blends the flavours into a perfect symphony. Unlike a happily boiling pot of tea, a bag won’t waft warm, welcoming aromas through the air every time you dip it. In short, great chai is made by brewing it from scratch, not from dipping some tea leaves into hot water and hoping for the best.

Over the years, I’ve come to hate teabag chai more than Modi loves Netanyahu. I also discovered the answer to why there’s a chaiwallah outside nearly every office in this country, and that lies in the wholesale suckage of teabags. The upside is that I’ve become friendly with the chaiwallahs around most spaces I’ve worked at. If you’re a member of the teabag party, I strongly recommend you give the chaiwallah a shot. You’ll get a new friend, and he might even turn out to be the next PM of our country. Even if none of that happens, at least you’ll still get a good, honest cup of chai. So to paraphrase a famous slogan, Just Brew It.