Dr Ajaz Anwar serves up a lowdown on the different types of tea enjoyed by Lahoris
Tea fast became a part of the Lahori culture. As Lahore was the centre of educational institutions, all colleges and universities had tuck shops, or cafeterias, where tea could be had at reasonable rates without any time restraints.
In the city too, there were numerous tea shops called ‘hotels.’ The Government College (GC) canteen was spacious and clean. There was a separate space for students where they would exchange pleasantries and have heated debates. Some were frugal while others took pride in footing the bill. This fellowship often developed into lifelong friendships. In their twilight years they would remind each other of their respective vanities. (If you secretly watch and listen to the bald-headed and ‘toothless’ oldies, you will realise that all are still young at heart.)
For the professors there was a separate, open space, fenced with green hedges. Their friends and some senior officers and writers, basically old Ravians, would gather here. Students were also occasionally encouraged to join in because they were considered ‘adults.’ This would help groom their intellect. I remember seeing Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, who had long retired, holding discussions here and the cafeteria in-charge participating because he had developed a literary taste.
Professors Rauf Anjum, Abdul Qayum alias Jojo, CA Qadir, Aslam Minhas, AD Kaleem, Dr Ajmal, Dr Siraj, Irshad Ali, and the principal, Dr Nazir Ahmad, would also find time to participate in the enlightened conversations.
One can find similarities in other cultural gatherings. The people gathering under an ancient tree outside some village in the patronage of the elders had the same purpose and effect.
How tea was introduced in the hot climate remains a deep mystery, though. Until a few years ago, at the Jhelum railway station, there was an enamel board advocating the advantages of having tea.
Tea used to be served for free to help the people form the habit. This herb, which grows abundantly in China and Far East, was introduced in parts of South Asia by the East India Company around the time of the Opium Wars. In order to promote the consumption of this new beverage, a tea marketing expansion board was formed. However, it became popular only with the city folks, especially students and the intellectual types.
While in most parts of the world it is consumed without milk, the English way was to have tea with milk. The Turks called the reddish tea tavsan kani, or rabbit’s blood.
Our national beverage has always been lassi. In 1962, at a debating contest in GC, the topic was “Lassi is better than tea.” Those defending the national beverage won amidst heavy applause and headed to the cafeteria where the professors, over sips of tea, congratulated them. They even projected the idea that tea had a soothing effect and, therefore, it beat the heat in the hot weather.
One thing is certain: one does feel energised. Besides, tea affords us better focus. Lassi, in contrast, is a mild brew that can make you feel drowsy.
Tea tastes better if properly brewed in a china tea pot. Biscuits and tea go along well. Back in the day, the old-timers would dip the biscuit in a cup of tea, before munching it.
There used to be a coffee board, but it never became popular with the masses.
A tea cup had to have a handle because it was served hot. They called it ‘kope.’ It had an accompanying small plate into which some poured tea and gradually sipped it.
A teaspoon is a measure for most recipes as well as medicines. Tablespoon, however, is a different cutlery item. Elaborate tea sets of as many as 52 pieces are a regular showcase display. This expensive crockery was seldom used; it was meant more to show off.
My grandfather in Ludhiana had brought a very expensive porcelain tea set from Delhi which was on permanent display and never used. While migrating, my grandmother hoped that the new owners would not smash it.
Porcelain originated in China. It got its inspiration from ‘Por(k)’, because it was so thin that it became translucent like the pig’s ears. But mere origin of the word does not make it less kosher.
Glazed pottery or ceramics were best from the Song and Sung periods because they were able to achieve 1,300 centigrade in traditional fire ovens. These were called Chinaware (cheeni kay bartan).
The cafeteria of the Punjab University’s Old Campus started functioning with a new team of bearers, circa 1963 (if memory serves me right). It had a spacious and airy hall, and the crockery used was all new and sparkling.
The waiters donned white uniforms. Among them were Aashiq, Sardar, Wilayat and Sabir. They were more like our friends. Whenever my friends from school and elsewhere came over, I could always pay later for the samosas and the tea, though I had to pay the tip in double. Once, the waiter Aashiq even helped me escape, leaving the guests to foot the bill.
There were numerous tea houses in Lahore of yore. Arab Hotel, in front of the Islamia College, Railway Road; Nagina Bakery in Anarkali; Coffee House, which later became Cheneys; were the earliest to flourish because of their proximity to the educational institutes. All these have been discussed in detail in various books on Lahore.
The tea prepared in the English tradition is mild and aromatic. However, the working class developed a taste for karrak chai, which is popular especially with the truck drivers who have to try to stay awake during their long-distance drives.
Tea leaves are boiled to higher temperatures so the tenin is dissolved in hot water. This chemical content is as harmful as nicotine in tobacco. Somehow, cigarette with nicotine and tea with tenin became a preferred combination among some ‘intellectuals’. Therefore, most tea shops were polluted with dense smoke.
Another local way of making tea is doodh patti. Here, milk, tea leaves and lots of sugar are brought to a few boils and then served in cups. One has to repeatedly blow air into the cup with each sip, to keep the mouth from getting burnt.
Tandoori chai is the latest fad. Here, tea is ‘cooked’ by lowering the terra cotta cups in a pre-heated clay oven.
Tea has become quite an item in our national beverages. In the breakfast, after lunch and dinner, tea is expected to be served. Tea breaks are allowed in most official functions. Most restaurants now offer ‘hi tea’ which includes a variety of cookies and snacks, albeit at higher prices.
(This dispatch is dedicated to Prof Zubair, a tea addict)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazartbrain.net.pk