Recently I came across a video clip about TWG’s Yellow Gold Bud Tea. This tea is believed to have been once the favourite of Chinese emperors and as precious and costly as gold. In fact, each tea bud is lavished in 24-karat gold, which once infused, yields a delicately metallic and floral aftertaste.
In the Sixties, during our childhood days, back home in Kottayam, the regular morning brew was coffee. Ripened red coffee beans were plucked from the coffee trees that grew in our homestead and after being sun dried their outer covering was removed. The beans were then fried until they turned black and ground to a powder at the nearby mill, to be stored in air tight containers. The coffee powder was put into a copper vessel with boiling water and was left for a few minutes for the coffee to be infused and the thick powder would settle at the bottom of the copper vessel. The extract or decoction was now mixed with milk and sugar and then served to all. Just thinking about it makes one salivate.
The taste of that home-made coffee is now history. With the advent of rubber plantations, all coffee trees were cut to make way for rubber. Thus the end of home-made coffee powder. We now source our coffee powder from various commercially available brands in the market. Sad change.
Happy change. I took to drinking tea on joining Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, at the age of nine in 1971. Tea was served to us early in the morning prior to Physical Training, at 11 o’ Clock between classes and in the evening prior to games. Every cadet took a liking to this tea as everyone looked forward to it. For many it served as a clock as none of us wore a wrist watch. The tea had some magic in it as it had the innate quality to kick start all the important events in a cadet’s life!
What was so special about this magical concoction? The taste of this tea is beyond words, and could never be replicated. We tried hard to analyse the secret of this addictive tea. What was special about it? It could be the special blend of the tea leaves or the way in which it was cured. Or perhaps it was the sublime effect of the Amaravathi River waters, the vessel in which it was brewed, or the cloth used to filter it – the possibilities were endless. It still remains a mystery to all of us, but it attracts most alumni to the school every year and they gleefully indulge in consuming steaming cups of this divine tea. Some Cadets even claimed that it was made with donkey’s milk.
Another most memorable cup of tea that I have had was the tea served by soldiers at the Sadhna Post at Nastachun Pass. This pass is located at about 10,000 feet Above Sea Level at the entrance to the Thangdhar Valley on the Indo-Pak border. The narrow one-way road from Chowkibal (about 100 km from Srinagar) was cut along the mountains to Nastachun Pass and then down into Thangdhar Valley. The road being narrow could only accommodate one vehicle either way. To ensure a smooth flow of vehicles, all traffic was regulated by a convoy system. The up and down convoys left from Thandhar and Chowkibal at about 8 in the morning and 2 in the Afternoon respectively. The vehicles on reaching Nastachun Pass would park there, awaiting all vehicles to fetch up from either side.
During this wait, soldiers manning Sadhna Post would serve tea to all. It was real refreshing cup of tea as one was both physically and mentally tired traversing up through the treacherous roads with many hairpin bends. It was a magic potion that invigorated tired limbs and ebbing spirits.
During winter, the road and the mountains got covered with over ten feet of snow. The only way to cross over was by foot columns. The foot columns operated at night, two days after a heavy snow storm to avoid avalanches. The foot column consisted mainly of soldiers proceeding or returning from leave from their homes, porters carrying essential supplies – fresh vegetables and milk, mail, etc.
It took about four hours of strenuous climb to Sadhna Post and was a sure test of anyone’s mental and physical abilities. It was a kind of surreal experience. Talking aloud was not permitted as the vibrations caused by human voice could resonate with layers of snow on the ridge face and trigger an avalanche. On reaching Sadhna Post, everyone was welcomed by the soldiers with a hot ‘cuppa’, a cup of tea that was the most refreshing and tasty—it simply was the best ever. To my mind, it could very well be compared to Amrit – the nectar of immortality in Hindu mythology. The climb down from the Sadhna post appeared easier but was just as treacherous, if not more, due to the tendency to slip and fall.
I have never tasted the Yellow Gold Bud Tea, the specialty of the Chinese emperors. But I am pretty certain that it would pale into insignificance when compared with the Amravathi Special or the Sadhna Post Amrit!