Flavours of Darjeeling

A mild fruity fragrance, brisk and flavourful tones, and a refreshing taste are what make Darjeeling Tea the delicate darling of tea connoisseurs. Tea, the de facto stimulant in all things adda, is revered all across the city and among people of all age groups. It is the aroma that makes Darjeeling Tea a sensation among Bengalis. While the majority of tea stalls scattered across every lane and bylane of Kolkata boil the tea liquor with milk, Darjeeling Tea stalls make the liquor separately to preserve its flavour. Also, unlike the usual bhaanr (small earthern tea pots), Darjeeling Tea is served in cup and saucer and/or tea glasses since earthen containers drain out its aroma. In this issue of Kolkata on WHEELS, let us take you to five tea stalls that will quench your thirst for Darjeeling Tea and adda.

Rabi Da’r Cha’er Dokan
114-A, APC Road (Sukea Street)
Timing: 6 am – 2 pm; 4 pm – 9 pm
Black Tea: Rs 5 | Milk Tea: Rs 6
Through a garage-like entrance, a man in his early sixties scurries in escaping the heat and orders a cup of black tea. He settles down on one of the benches with a newspaper and says, “The heat is getting unbearable and the newspapers are reporting it every day,” to another gentleman before taking a sip of his tea. The conversation on weather continues as both men order their second cups. Chhotu, one of the present owners of the stall, smiles and says that it is almost ritualistic of this man to come in at noon every day and discuss the perils of rising heat. He adds, before resuming his duties, “He drinks at least three cups of black tea in the afternoon and again in the late evening.”

These are the daily scenes at Rabi Da’r Cha’er Dokan, nestled in the lane of Sukea Street in north Kolkata. This little stall, started by Sitalchandra Ghosh, has been serving flavoured Darjeeling Tea for close to a hundred years now. Along with tea the present owners, Kalu and Chhotu, grandsons of Sitalchandra Ghosh, have started selling butter toast and omelette and business is smooth. Low on the tannic factor, their tea is extremely mild and leaves a lingering sweet aftertaste, much like the adda. If you are near Sukea Street on a sultry summer afternoon, stop by for a cup of freshness and spirited conversation at Rabi Da’r Cha’er Dokan.

Favourite Cabin
69-B, Surya Sen Street
Timing: 9 am – 10 pm 
Tea: Rs 6
In Kolkata’s cultural dialect, the word ‘cabin’ evokes the sight of local coffee houses and eateries, brimming with people occupying tables for hours while debating various topics. Such is the legacy of local coffee and tea houses that they were renowned as the hub of intellectuals before the café culture took the city by storm and people started choosing the Earl Greys and Mochas over inexpensive tea and coffee. Favourite Cabin has managed to hold on to that image though. Its interiors still rage with debates and laughter from its ever-full tables.

Situated just opposite the Kolkata Municipal Borough at Surya Sen Street, Favourite Cabin is a well-known tea house of north Kolkata near College Square. The wooden rafters on its ceiling and Bengali calendars on the walls are reminders that Favourite Cabin is inherently realist in its approach – no fancy pseudo-decor here. The tea, a blend of Darjeeling and Assam, packs in quite a punch. It has a thick and strong brew with a musky aroma that can fuel any conversation. Nutan Chandra Barua set up Favourite Cabin close to a century ago, and it is still going strong courtesy their fruit cakes and tea served in pleasant colourful cups.

Radhu Babu
8-A, Janak Road (Beside Lake Market)
Timing: 6 am – 8:30  pm
Tea: Rs 7
A renowned 90-year-old shop started by Radha Kishore Dutta, Radhu Babu has an almost institution-like presence in the way people refer to it with fondness. From Tollywood celebrities, musicians and businessmen to corporate employees, Radhu Babu is frequented by numerous people on a daily basis who talk about everything from the trade market to international affairs. Some of Kolkata’s most-beloved fast food in cutlets, stews and kabirajis is served here.

Situated behind Lake Mall, this small eatery has a generous supply of customers queuing up daily for its tea and fast food. Getting a seat inside is a difficult affair and people are scattered all around the footpath, gulping tea. A strong blend of Darjeeling Tea sets Radhu Babu apart from the rest. It has a strong tannic taste to it but they’ll tone it down if requested. Breakfast hour ranges from 6 am to 10 am when they serve toast and omelette. The fast food is served after 3:30 in the afternoon. Presently run by Somnath Dutta and Satya Sundar Dutta, Radhu Babu is a fitting place to unwind after office amidst a combo of Kolkata’s favourite fast food and Darjeeling Tea.

Jhontuda’r Cha
112, Asutosh Mukherjee Rd (School Row)
Timing: 6 am – 10 pm
Tea: Rs 5 – Rs 8
Siddhartha Nandi, a regular customer at Jhontuda’r Cha for the last 40 years, says it is the adda that he looks forward to the most. It is difficult to oppose him on this one. A typical evening at the footpath by Jhontuda’r Cha is resplendent with conversation ranging from cricket to politics, and newspaper headlines being dissected with utter precision, its contents critiqued, appreciated and ridiculed. There are wooden tables and plastic chairs scattered across the footpath and all of them remain occupied post-evening. There are a horde of motorcycles that are parked near the tea stalls each day; their owners, local office-goers who park them there before entering office and release them while returning, are witness to the conversations, agreeing and denying in silence the motions passed.

For Debananda Dey on the other hand, a resident of Alipore, it is the tea that pulls him. “A strong blend of Darjeeling Fanning Tea is why I visit daily. I buy the same tea for my home, but somehow it tastes better here at the shop,” he confesses unabashedly. It is difficult to oppose Dey as well, as for Rs 5 customers are treated to a musky flavourful tea that leaves a bittersweet aftertaste. Started by Jhontu Halder some 60 years back and presently run by his son and grandson, this tea stall provides its patrons an eventful time dipped in the muskiness of their tea and adda.

4, Mangoe Lane
4, Mangoe Lane (off R.N. Mukherjee Rd)
Timing: 9 am – 8:30 pm
Tea: Rs 5
No, that is not the name of the stall! In fact, this stall has no name but is referred to as ‘Pintu’r Cha’er Dokan’, after the present owner Pintu Jana. Although Pintu has no recollection of the name of the person who started the stall, he says it was his grandfather. Located in the lane just beside Paribahan Bhawan on R.N. Mukherjee Road, the ambience is one of heated conversation on government policies and the state of affairs in the city. Regular customers range from bureaucrats and lawyers to other government employees who are stimulated in their great debates by the sweet and fragrant Darjeeling Fanning Tea.

Pintu Jana says that he acquires his tea from Chandni Market and from the same shop since its inception 40 years ago. Served in shiny white cup and saucer, the tea here is more aromatic compared to other places and the reason why people gather in droves, according to Abhishek De, a regular.

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