Here is something I wrote for Conde Nast Traveller a few months ago – seeing how tea is making a sudden reappearance on this blog, have posted it here…
India seems to have rediscovered its love for tea. After a spate of coffee shops in the last ten years, it is now time for tea cafés—also called tea lounges or tea bars. These cafés manage to keep the focus on tea while still pulling in coffee lovers with their food; from short eats like sandwiches and brownies to meals of salad and pasta. And unlike coffee shops which are typically patronised by the young and the restless, tea cafés attract people of all ages who seek the peace and comfort on offer. Here’s Condé Nast Traveller’s pick of the five best tea lounges across India:
Tea Centre, Mumbai
The first among equals here must be Mumbai’s Tea Centre. Everything here from the muted décor to the little bells on the table for summoning waiters spells only one thing—old world charm. As you enter through the glass door, you leave behind the heat and noise of Mumbai; inside the Tea Centre, all is cool and quiet. Go there for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just an any-time cuppa with French fries on the side, for the food here is as enticing as the tea. And be ready to be adventurous with your choice of tea: our recommendations are the apple butter tea (hot) and the orange tea (iced).
Tea Centre, Resham Bhavan, Veer Nariman Road, near Churchgate, Mumbai (+91 22 2281 9142)
Bengaluru with its strong coffee culture is also home to many tea cafés, Infinitea being one of the best. Located on busy Cunningham Road, this café offers over 50 varieties of tea since 2003. There are all the usual suspects like iced tea and masala chai as well as unusual ones like white tea, once the drink of the Chinese nobility or the Stupa, a tightly closed bud that blooms, infusing its flavour inside the cup of hot water. The interiors of the restaurant too reflect a passion for tea, with cheerful photographs and posters on the walls depicting different moods and ideas associated with the drink.
Infinitea, Cunningham Road, Bengaluru (+91 80 4114 8428; http://www.infinitea.in)
Further down South is the Teapot Café in Fort Kochi, themed entirely around the beverage. Here, even the clocks tell tea time (all numerals are replaced with the letter T). The highlight of the main room is the large centre table with a tea bush six feet in diameter as the base. Most tables are made of tea chests and proudly proclaim ‘Produce of India’ while the quirky sketches on yellow walls complement the larger motif. There are also over a hundred different types of tea pots and kettles on display. Teapot Café is popular with both domestic travellers and foreigners who, along with their tea, like to tuck into some delicious Kerala aapam with stew.
Teapot Café, Peter Celli Street, Fort Kochi, Kochi (+ 91 484 221 8035)
Dolly’s Tea Shop
In the tea friendly East, Dolly’s Tea Shop in Kolkata is the place to head to, for the finest Darjeeling varieties. This place is also great for people-watching, located as it is in the middle of a popular market. This tea café is the brainchild of Dolly Roy, India’s first woman tea taster and an acknowledged connoisseur of the beverage. Dolly’s is a small place but with the relaxed atmosphere of any venerable Kolkata adda (hang-out).
Dolly’s Tea Shop, Dakshinapan Shopping Center, Gariahat Road, Kolkata (+91 33 2422 0772)
Then there is Cha Bar, inside—and part of—the Oxford Book Store in various cities across India. Sip on your favourite tea—you can choose from 86 types of Indian and international teas—as you take a break from browsing through books. This café, started in 2003, is owned by the Apeejay Group, one of the world’s largest producers of tea.
Oxford Book Store is in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi and Chennai (www.oxfordbookstore.com)