Tea rooms are catching on in South India and offer a wide variety of the beverage for discerning patrons.

Who says coffee is king in South India Tea rooms are here to stay
Features Food Monday, January 23, 2017 - 11:05

Deepa Harishankar

Tea rooms and tea houses are wonderful places if you want to spend an afternoon out in a quiet (relatively quiet!) place. You can also drag your coffee loyalist friends along because they do offer coffee and other infusions for the detractors. In Kerala, of course, tea has always scored a few notches higher than coffee when it comes to beverage preferences but not so for most part of the Soutth.

Tea rooms are huge in East Asia where you find people meeting and bonding over tea. Several luxury tea brands have tea rooms where they host patrons. And now, the trend is catching on in South India. 

My first tea room experience was in Chennai, a couple of years ago. A friend took us to Lloyd’s Tea House on Lloyd’s Road and I was sold on the idea of a tea room.  Lloyd’s serves exotic teas that come with sand hourglasses and tea diffusers. It is a lot like having tea with Bond and his gadgets.

You might envisage tea rooms very differently in your mind:  a colonial hangover or a very East Asian dĂ©cor. But the modern tea room in the South Indian metro sells smoothies, pastas, sandwiches and yes, tea. We might have thatte idlis and masala dosas pretty soon.

Bengaluru has several tea rooms in Cunningham Road, Indira Nagar and Koramangala. You are bound to see tonsured men in Batman tee shirts and hear them drop terms like 'start up', 'plug and play', 'IIT', 'benchmark' and 'seed capital'.

Hyderabad has a bunch of tea rooms among which Finjaan, Banjara Hills seems to be a favourite. Tea Trails is a tea room chain that has a presence in almost every city. 

A lot of thought goes into designing these rooms. The ambience is tea themed. The menu has a wide variety of the beverage and a lot of other things that go with it. For example, Infinitea in Indira Nagar, Bengaluru, is themed around Alice in Wonderland. The menu, too, has references to the book.

The menu in most of these tea rooms serves teas from every part of the tea cultivating world. China, Japan, Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiris, Sri Lanka…what have you! Flavoured, scented and blended teas are listed according to the strength of their brew, followed by a short brief on each tea. Green tea of course, is listed on top. That is no surprise: almost everyone I know, from 65 year old grandmothers to organic health nuts, has a stash of green tea.

Oolong, Earl Grey, English Breakfast are the classic favourites. Matcha, Genmaicha, Roobios and Lapsang Souchong are newer avatars. New age tea patrons have customised their teas with flavours and scents. Monkey picked tea with a hint of banana, Hibiscus flavoured Sri Lankan tea, infusions with a mind boggling array of spices... And there’s always milky, sweet chai on every single tea room menu.

Lloyd’s Tea House has a wonderful cutting chai served in quintessentially Chennai tea glasses. Like themed restaurants, tea rooms design their menu to educate their guests on everything tea: origin, cultivation and types of tea. White tea is unprocessed tea, made from the buds of the tea bush. Green tea that has gained reputation worldwide for its health benefits is plucked, withered and rolled tea leaf.  It’s heated while being rolled and this prevents oxidation.

Tea enthusiasts frequent tea rooms because they find that these places have the right accompaniments for tea. For the purist, there are scones, clotted cream, fruit preserve and of course, tea cake. For someone looking to experiment, there are burgers.

While you watch the waiter set the china and the sand starts flowing down in the tea timer, you can feel yourself traveling back in time. Along with the acquired taste for tea, this old world charm is what appeals to tea loyalists. 

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