Brewing the Perfect Blend in West Bengal
Lately, my morning tea ritual looks like this. I fill my infuser with a measured amount of tea leaves—usually masala chai and occasionally, green tea. Straying away from the regular ginger tea with milk, I dip the leaves inside a cup of hot water and set the timer. The leaves expand in the infuser, and when my timer goes off, I sit down for breakfast with a refreshing brew. This new norm is the result of my visit to Gomden’s Tea Bar & Retail, a tea lounge in Siliguri.
Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, Siliguri is a trading centre for teas. A Google search of things to do in this region does not give room for an itinerary. However, my love for tea compels me to forego Darjeeling and explore this sleepy town for a day.
While walking in the busy Salbhari market area, I chance upon Gomden’s Tea Bar & Retail. The interiors resemble a café, with one corner allotted to a wide display of teas. There are barstools near the counter, and I quickly place myself there. With no one else for company, I turn to the “bartender.”
The bartender is Anant Gomden, the proprietor and owner of the tea lounge. As most bartenders go, Gomden is pleasant and friendly, while being inquisitive about my interest in tea. The 50 different varieties of tea from which I can choose leave me stumped. However, Gomden knows his teas and simplifies the options. Our conversation also becomes a lesson on the history of tea. Gomden explains that unlike popular perception, the British first introduced tea in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra Valley and not Darjeeling.
Soon enough, a private tea tasting session has been set up with three different green teas—ginger mint lemon, honey lemon, and rhododendron. The rhododendron does not turn bright red like some of the teas I have had before. Gomden explains that the tea has real flowers, without any added colouring. He also insists that I clear my palate with water before I switch teas. Gomden quit his service as a fifth-generation tea estate manager to start this specialised bar in 2018. “The idea behind starting this bar was to familiarise people with good tea. Many try expensive teas, but they don’t brew it right,” he explains.
So, how do you brew a proper cup of tea? Precision, Gomden believes, has a lot to do with it. For every cup of tea that Gomden offers, he measures exactly 2.5 grams of tea leaves that is brewed in mineral water for a fixed amount of time. I ask him about my favourite morning staple, masala chai.Unsurprisingly, he has a blend for that too. I catch a whiff of the heavy scent as he opens the bottle before my eyes settle on the whole spices. “This is perfect for the milky chai that a lot of Indians drink,” he humours me.
With snacks being conspicuously absent in the menu, Gomden aims to centre the entire experience at the eponymous café on tea without any distractions.
I returned with five tea blends, an infuser, and the knowledge of correctly brewing a cuppa—five minutes for a cup of black tea, three for green.