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The rise of modern Indian tea parties

Forget scones with clotted cream, try gulab jamun tarts, Thai-style paani puris and jalebi with mascarpone cheese

Indians love tea time with a desi twist. (Photo: Christian Bowen, Unsplash)
Indians love tea time with a desi twist. (Photo: Christian Bowen, Unsplash)

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In July, entrepreneur Bhavna Jasra threw an over-the-top tea party at the opulent Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. It combined two milestones: her 50th birthday and two decades of her successful venture First Impressions that creates keepsakes by casting hands and feet in metal finishes using gold, silver and bronze. “I am a tea enthusiast and I love my cuppa, be it our desi masala chai or a supreme Imperial Earl Grey. I savour each sip and snacks that accompany my tea. So what better way to celebrate than to throw a posh British-inspired tea party. It was a lavish affair of two-dozen tea selections, magnums of wine and champagne and tea time classics like cucumber and salmon sandwiches and a range of cakes and pastries,” says Jasra.

For centuries, the French, British and Chinese have cherished tea traditions. “There’s a century-old story of how Anna, the duchess of Bedford, would feel peckish late afternoons. With dinner still a while away, she started what has since become the English afternoon tea tradition,” writes Lounge’s tea columnist Aravinda Anantharaman.

Many cafes and homegrown brands in India are now offering quintessential tea party experiences. Take for instance, The Ritz-Carlton Tea Lounge in Pune. It is an ode to the tea rooms of England. The fine décor reflects an English design sensibility and the afternoon tea menu is a show-stopper. The signature afternoon tea ceremony includes delicacies like creamy rock lobster with herbs and mustard on a traditional choux bun, raspberry financier, grilled zucchini and camembert cheese with pecan nut served in corn shell. The tea selection is meant for a connoisseur with options like Sencha Fukujyu Cha, Thunderbolt Darjeeling, Pu-erh Toucha, Golden Assam and Tencha Matcha.

“Until Bridgerton premiered in India in December 2020, the demand for afternoon tea or high tea was very less. However, now sophisticated high tea parties are finding favour,” says Hanan Sait of FlourPowerHS, a cloud kitchen bakery in Bengaluru. According to Sait, tea parties are picking up as they are held at a convenient time, such as afternoon, and the menu blends savoury and sweet bites. Their mix of snacks include fig and honey crostini, schoko-bons and eclairs, while the tea selection has herbal blends, Kashmiri kahwa and pure chamomile tea.

“Since I spent many years in France, I miss the Parisian Salon de Thé. These are charming tea rooms in and around Paris offering food and drinks, especially a variety of tea and homemade cakes and pies for afternoon tea or lazy brunches. I began offering tea parties at my sustainable homestay in Kamshet, Maharashtra. I am amazed to see my guests not only enjoy the usual tea time snacks, but also relish hand-picked leafy salads from our very own backyard farm with their afternoon tea,” says Suchita Bhat, owner of Eco-Hamlet.

Bhat began offering high tea experiences in June. Instead of having a set tea party menu, they believe in customizing the food choices as per their clients’ demands. The menu features make-your-own-salad (mix of greens, crunchy nuts and seeds and a couple of salad dressings), muffins, Bombay sandwich, chutney and cheese sandwiches and crispy bhajiya along with all-time favourites masala chai, lemon tea with honey and ginger tea. The menu was introduced when she realised many of her clients cherish their afternoon tea time and they crave for a special tea party experience at the farm. Although they want the look and feel of an English tea party, the food and tea selections must have familiar desi flavours.

But for some, the experience goes beyond the food and tea. “Many of my patrons prefer classy, high tea-inspired get-togethers to enjoy seasons like monsoons and winters, and get a feel of this age-old British tradition in the comfort of their homes. So, we bring our luxurious décor with tiered cake stands, the finest tableware and a variety of food including tarts, quiches and desserts like red-velvet cake to make their moments memorable," shares Shelly Sahay of Elma’s Bakery and kitchen in New Delhi. “Only top five-star hotels were offering high tea when Elma’s opened its doors in 2011. So, we started with a high tea experience as a standalone cafe. Our traditional afternoon tea consists of a selection of dainty finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and homemade preserves, cakes and pastries along with tea grown in India and Ceylon. There is a good demand for high tea parties now as it’s a perfect indulgent occasion and an apt time to catch up with friends," adds Sahay.

Although the menus have Enid Blyton-inspired food items, from scones with clotted cream to jam and frilly raspberry tarts, Indians love a desi twist. Verandah Café at Rambagh Palace, Jaipur offers khaman, methi mathri, imarti with mascarpone cheese and gulab jamun tart for their afternoon tea service.

“British tea time snacks are being replaced by modern Indian bites like avacado sev puri, pav bhaji croquette and Thai style paani puris,” shares Bhakti Mehta who runs the bespoke gourmet catering The Little Food Co. in Mumbai. Bhakti's menu includes tikkis, gun powder corn, mini rolls and gulab jamun nests which go well with a contemporary Indian menu. Although tea parties have earned more fans recently, Bhakti points out they have always been popular among women-centric events like bridal and baby showers.

In May, a group of mountaineers led by Andrew Hughes made the world record of hosting the world’s highest tea party at Mount Everest Camp 2, Nepal. Inspired to join the tea party bandwagon, I am contemplating my very own high tea get-together. The fanciest bone china tea sets, the chicest table runner and aesthetically arranged tea time classics with homemade Indian titbits like some chicken puffs, sliced paneer kathi rolls and mini bowls full of angoori malai on tiered cake stands will be on the menu.

Also read | A tea that embodies the golden feel of home




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