Tea Sommelier Pallavi Sahay’s Labor of Love is Informative & Delightful
By VISHNU MAKHIJANI
Then began a prolonged adventure during which she discovered the bewildering variety that Darjeeling and Assam have to offer, even as she was introduced to indigenous varieties like ‘Phalap’ and ‘Alle Saang’ that have been crafted by minorities in the remote regions of the northeast long before the British came upon the brew – and which need to be nurtured.
The outcome of this labor of love – it can’t be termed anything else – is ‘A Sip in Time – India’s Finest Teas and Teatime Treats’ (Hachette) that perfectly reveals her culinary expertise in combining 60 delectable dishes – from cakes, puffs, biscuits and sandwiches to breads, cookies, chaats and muffins – with a brew of your choice for a delightful teatime tete-a-tete.
“India is the most shining jewel in the world’s tea crown, as we are blessed with both types of climates, the one that supports the growth of delicate floral flavors (think Darjeeling) and also the one that supports the development of strong and robust ones (like Assam). We are present internationally, but I think we can be a bit more visible.
“As the world is moving more towards organic and artisan products, I believe that by promoting more of indigenous teas, like Phalap and Alle Saang, prepared by ethnic minorities dwelling in the remote regions of northeastern India, using the ancient methods, we can make our position much stronger,” Sahay said.
“As I started penning down my ideas I started realizing just how much there is that I don’t know about tea. So my husband suggested that I should join a small course on tea to clarify my basic concepts, and I took the advice and joined a course in Guwahati” under tea expert Parag Hathibarua, who has spent 32 years in the industry.
It started with tasting different types of teas and understanding their processing and moved on to visits to the tea estate to understand the terroir (environmental factors) and to witness the process of tea making.
“After that, came the part where we got introduced to a wide world of indigenous handcrafted tea by the ethnic minorities dwelling in the hills of northeast India. There I came to know that tea was growing and was being processed and drunk in India since the dawn of time, before it got discovered by the British.
“That was the part which made me curious, to visit the tea’s heartland and meet the people who made those teas. Finally, those journeys got culminated into my book,” Sahay said.
To this end, the book is infused with personal experience, her exploration of the various kinds of Indian tea, their histories, and the unique qualities that make them coveted around the world. It brings alive the taste and aroma of each tea it encounters – from the traditional Phalap and the robust varieties growing in Assam to the fragrant Darjeeling and the delicately nuanced brews from Arunachal and Munnar (in Kerala), where she also forayed.
“I love to eat, hence I love cooking, which makes me a big cookbook junkie, having read so many, I always wanted to write one on my ideas and connection with food. And since tea, in its various avatars, has always been a big part of my life, whether I am celebrating something or getting over something, whether I am gossiping or arguing, writing or talking you will always find me with a cup of tea.
“So the idea to compose all my favorite teatime snack recipes into a book had always been there in my head and after publishing my first book (‘The Bhojpuri Kitchen’) and filming a TV show, I found myself relatively unoccupied and decided to give it a try.
“And what started as just a cookbook, after doing the sommelier course, got transformed into a travelogue. and as I travelled like a pilgrim, I tasted finest of Assam, Darjeeling, Munnar and other artisan teas, met few of the most wonderful people on earth, collected wonderful stories and recipes, all of that is what this book is,” Sahay elaborated.
Flush with “sumptuous” visuals, the book is divided into five principal sections – Phalap, India’s First Brew; Assam and the Story of Masala Chai; Darjeeling; Alle Saang, the Foot-Rolled Tea of Arunachal Pradesh; and Munnar.
The chapter on Assam is further divided into six parts – Monsoon, Winter, Summer, Assam Orthodox, English Breakfast Tea and Earl Grey. Similarly, the chapter on Darjeeling is divided into three parts -First Flush or Spring Tea (February-April), Second Flush or Muscatel Tea (May-June) and Autumn Flush (October-November).
Here’s a teaser-trailer of the pairings;
Phalap: Thekua (an incredibly crumbly mouth-full of the elegant flavors of cardamom, and punctuated with refreshing fennel seeds).
Assam Monsoon: Mirchi Pakodas.
Assam Winter: Bajra na Rotla no Choormo (pearl millet parathas crumbled with jiggery).
Assam Summer: Mungaudi (yellow moong dal fritters/lentil fritters).
Assam Orthodox: Kesar and Kishmish Muffins.
English Breakfast Tea: Almond and Chocolate Chip Muffins with Cashew Nut Frosting.
Earl Grey: Achaari Chicken Cutlet Sandwich.
Darjeeling First Flush: Glenburn’s Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon Cake.
Darjeeling Second Flush: Coconut Cake with Lemon Drizzle.
Darjeeling Autumn Flush: Carrot Cake Mini Loaf with Cream Cheese Frosting.
Alle Sang: Ranjeeta Maasi’s Hare Matar ki Tikki.
Munnar: Keema Pav.
There’s a detailed recipe for each of the eats.