Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
Fans of Star Trek will recognise that. Fans of tea as well, since sharing quotes on tea is a favourite pastime among us. Books and tea have been my preferred pairing. I am just beginning to recognise that it’s tea and cinema for others.
Some time ago, I was given a book titled Tea Talkies, best described as a tribute to both Hindi cinema and tea. It has been put together by Vikram Mittal of Mittal Teas and Nutan Lugani, both self-confessed tea and cinema buffs. Part book, part journal, every page carries a vignette from Hindi cinema that includes tea, along with a tea recipe inspired by it. I happened to open it at random but caught myself reading all of it. Twenty films, ranging from Do Bigha Zamin to Dil Se.., find mention. I found such an unabashed display of love for cinema and tea utterly charming.
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While tea often passes off as a necessary prop in art, it does sometimes assume iconic proportions, like the pithy but memorable line from Star Trek. I haven’t watched Star Trek but I did watch a video that has a collection of every instance when “Tea. Earl Grey” is mentioned. As happens on the internet, one thing led to another and I landed on a video of Patrick Stewart (who plays Captain Jean-Luc Picard, whose line it is) on the Wired website answering Google’s autocomplete questions. And sure enough, there was this: Does Patrick Stewart drink Earl Grey Tea? He clarifies that he only drinks it occasionally; the tea he starts his day with is Yorkshire Gold which, I discover, is a blend of 10 teas from Assam, Rwanda and Kenya (made by Taylors of Harrogate). By this time, I had forgotten why I was there and was trying, instead, to locate more details about the blend.
To return to my musings about tea and film, I found that unlike books, I cannot for the world remember any memorable scene with tea. Except the Netflix episode of Ray where the chai noomi basra is more than just a preferred tea. And Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (pictured), where Professor Trelawney leads the class in reading the tea leaves.
So, of course, I turn to the internet. It takes me to Maggie Smith in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015) and a scene that’s a lesson in itself. “Listen and learn,” she tells the server. “Tea is a herb that has been dried out. To bring it back to life you have to infuse it in boiling water.” She takes umbrage at the ubiquitous cup of lukewarm water with a tea bag on the side. “It means I have to go through the ridiculous business of dunking it in lukewarm piss waiting for the slightest change in colour to occur. And at my age, I haven’t got the time.” Whoever wrote it is clearly familiar with the process, it’s so heartfelt in its description of the frustration.
I leave you with The Flavor Of Green Tea Over Rice, made in 1952 by Yasujiro Ozu, which seems to have been enjoying a revival in the last couple of years. Named after tea but actually about relationships, it’s available online and pairs well with a pot of sencha.
Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1
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