How drinking tea has evolved in Bangladesh
One thing is for certain: When you come out of the Kazi and Kazi Tea Parlour or the tea bar as many are calling it, you won’t have to act furtive. There won’t be a slur in your language, and making countless implausible excuses over the phone to the wife won’t be necessary.
In Dhaka, where innovative ideas are being put into action every week, the concept of the tea bar is a new one.
Of course, any place selling a variety of tea can be called a tea spot but the one in Gulshan 2 is reminiscent of Fortnum & Mason’s afternoon tea ritual.
Nope, the scones are not available as yet but since the space is shared with Holey Artisan Bakery, one can get a delicious selection of cheese, French bread, sweets, and savouries.
The variety presented at the parlour is overwhelming to say the least. Sitting here one evening, the overall evolution of tea drinking in Dhaka in the last three decades came to mind.
When tea was 50 paisa
Yes, for the millennial generation, a 50 paisa coin is something of an excitement. Just imagine, once there was a time when we could buy a full cup of steaming hot tea for that amount.
“Ek takar cha tin cup e” was a common order at the road side tea stores of Dhaka in the late 70s and 80s. Tea was the essential brew of the student, the bohemian poet, the political activist, and the budding journalist.
Back then, in a time when society was still imbued with the utopian notion of socialism, plans for social reforms were made over countless cups of tea. But was it just boiling water on tea leaves added with milk?
The famous dudh cha or milk tea of local restaurants included: Bread crumbs, smashed banana, raisins, and often, cardamom and ground cinnamon.
Well, it was not tea per se but an innovative cocktail with tea as the base. Once the most favoured tea was the Ovaltine tea, which included chocolate malt based powder in the drink.
At the time when phensedyl addiction reached its peak point, the common order at tea stalls was one cup of tea, three spoons of sugar.
During the anti-autocracy movement of the 80s, student activists on the roads survived on three items -- shingara, tea, and Star cigarettes.
From the mass movement to topple a dictator to the present when Dhaka is a cosmopolitan city like any other, tea has always been intertwined with the evolution of life.
At the Kazi and Kazi tea parlour, it was another manifestation of the love for tea. This time though, the whole environment aimed to ease the stress of living in a fast and frenzied city.
When tea is taken to reduce stress
If tea in the past was for instant stimulation then here, it’s about relaxation in a placid environment, said Asma ul Roxana, Chief Operating Officer for Kazi and Kazi Tea.
The parlour is also a celebration of organic tea from Bangladesh which is being sold at top stores in the US like Whole Foods, Target, and, in the UK, at its own tea bar at Covent Garden under the brand name, Teatulia.
This is tea packaged with flamboyance to attract the discerning buyers in the overseas market, added Asma.
Interestingly, the tea which is exported also plays a role in popularizing the Bengali alphabet. For instance, the neem tea has the alphabet “na,” the mint tea or pudina based tea has the alphabet “pa” on the packaging.
As I am told, the most exclusive tea is the white tea, which is made from the buds of the tree plants.
With high anti-oxidants, white tea is highly popular among the modern day health conscious along with tea connoisseurs.
There is also a turmeric laced tea called the “holud cha” -- which works as a drink or as tea, whichever way you want to look at it.
The tea bar opened just a month ago and Asma informs that, so far, the most popular has been the peppermint tea or the pudina cha, which is taken by both locals and foreigners.
“Our target is to create a place where people can come and have tea and use the whole experience to unwind,” said Asma.
In general, people in Bangladesh look at Sylhet as the tea-growing region but our tea is from Panchagarh in the northern-most part of Bangladesh, the COO informed.
Social empowerment behind designer tea
In the rural areas of northern Bangladesh where the tea is grown, the company has an ingenious cattle-lending program. Under this, the local women are given cattle as loan by the Kazi and Kazi Tea Cooperative.
The loan is then paid back by the women in the form of cow dung, which is used as fertilizer in the garden. When the price of the cow is paid, the woman and her family become owners of the cattle. The cooperative also offers literacy classes, IT lessons, and a library.
Reportedly, when the gardens first opened, less than 30% workers were literate, which now stands at 84%.
“We want to popularize the ritual of tea drinking which is taken as a daily stress reliever,” said Asma, adding, “in the future, there will be tea tasting sessions to be conducted by tea sommeliers.”
In short, from the road side tea, sipped hurriedly, we have come to a tea drinking spot which adds another dimension to our love for the drink.
As for those who are not into different types of tea and like the desi style strong brew with milk, just ask for the milk tea … which is, in my opinion, one of the best in town. After all, that’s the tea which fuelled so many social/political movements and the one we grew up with.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.