The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The tea tasting session at The Tea Lounge, The Lalit Great Eastern

When I walked into the tea lounge of the five star address at Dalhousie (the central business district), it was a pleasant surprise. It was a sunlit yet indoor lounge, thanks to the ceiling entirely made of glass. Lights are turned on only when it is dark. Thanks to the daylight (use of which obviously scores on eco-friendliness) this spacious and comfy lounge can provide the ideal setting for a relaxed business meeting or a chit chat with an old friend after a long while. I doubt if Kolkata has another dedicated tea lounge of this standard. The Lalit chain of hotels also has such a lounge only in this property.  The lounge has another feature which is as matchless. I shall come to it in a little while.

A tea tasting session is not a common event, and when the venue is in a hotel which is part of Kolkata’s rich colonial history (Founded as Auckland Hotel in 1840 by David Wilson, an Englishman who was encouraged by the thriving success of his confectionery shop), an invitation as a blogger was something that I couldn’t afford to miss.

By the way, the tea lounge was not part of the erstwhile Great Eastern Hotel when it was bought over by The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group from the state government in 2005. The lounge is a welcome value addition by the present owners, designed to offer a new environment to the tea-loving Kolkata, keeping intact the ancient British style and ambience. It has brought to life the British concept of ‘Afternoon tea’ with its Phoenician décor and a manner of service modeled on the English style of ‘Silver service’ to appeal to the tea connoisseurs.

View from the tea lounge

Mr Subhojit Sengupta, the Food & Beverage Manager started the session with a small group of mediapersons and bloggers like an informal chat.  To start with, they serve an eclectic range of thirty two varieties of tea from sixteen select tea estates of India. Seven to eight are from select tea gardens of Darjeeling and an equal number is from Assam. Others include flavoured tea, like strawberry, which are flavours carefully mixed with tea right here to create a tea plus experience.

A distinct variety from the range is silver needle tea- a fine-flavoured tea which is rarely available and happens to be one of the most expensive varieties in the world. This tea is regularly served here.

A distinctive offering of the tea lounge is the Great Eastern Darjeeling tea- a tea made in Goomtee Tea Estate in Kurseong exclusively for the hotel. You won’t get it anywhere else in the world. The tea menu describes it as available in black, green, white and oolong. When properly brewed, it yields a thin-bodied, light-colour infusion with a floral aroma. The flavour can include a tinge of astringent tannic characteristics, and a musky spiciness sometimes described as "muscatel.”  It comes at Rs 350 for a pot of tea. One can even buy a pack of the tea from the lounge to take home or to gift. It has also been made available in the other five star properties of The Lalit.

The other feature which is matchless as I mentioned in the beginning is the tea menu. It is a three dimensional thing that can be folded to make a box. Not only the various teas and their descriptions, it also shows you the actual tea leaves next to their names in small flat boxes covered with a transparent material. The waiting staff takes this to a customer who after going through a description can uncover the respective box and take out a pinch of the tea for whiffing its distinctive aroma. The waiter is qualified to make a recommendation suited to the person’s taste. Not only that such an approach to serving tea is out-of-the-box, it goes a long way in tea appreciation for the enthusiasts.

The tea menu. Photo by Anindya S Basu.
The tea menu- a close look

Here are two varieties from the menu, one Darjeeling, one Assam, for your information:

Darjeeling Phuguri- The silver tipped leaves make for a bright golden liquor and remarkable flavour reminiscent of fresh flower and fruits. It has an excellent aroma, light liquor and as unmatched sweet cloned taste which lingers for long time. Comes at Rs 350 for a pot.

Assam Halmari Orthodox- Halmari (tea garden) specializes in orthodox teas. Superior leaf from top quality orthodox clones is used to produce exotic tea blends. The tea is manufactured from young, carefully picked buds and is sun-dried. It has a very mild flavour reminiscent of honey and cocoa. Comes at Rs 325 for a pot.

Subhojit then called us to the expansive counter where he and his team showed how the tea is brewed. The tea leaf is put in an apparatus called infuser (looks like a tube with pores for the juice to be extracted).

The infuser in the cup. Brewing is on.

The brewing time depends on the nature of the tea and the customer’s taste and preference. There is a set of three hourglasses with three timeframes- 3 minutes, 4 minutes and 5 minutes which helps the customer in clocking the right time of leaving the tea in the boiling water as per personal preference.

The hourglass set. Photo by Anindya S Basu.

We were showed the brewing of the very special Jasmine tea, known for its aroma. It was a revelation, I must say. The jasmine flower is bound by the tea leaves into a small ball called pearl. When the pearl is dropped in the boiling water, the leaves are slowly separated and the flower comes out. The whole thing looks like a blooming flower and holds great visual appeal. For this characteristic this tea is also called the blooming tea. Subhojit informed us, it is said that the pearl sleeps till it is put in hot water, and once done, it wakes up.

The blooming tea. The flower inside is visible now. And the pearl is placed outside the teapot.

Subhojit’s pick from the menu would be the Great Eastern Darjeeling tea, Silver White tea (a specialty from the famous Makaibari tea garden), oriental tea and masala tea (in which select Indian spices are mixed to bring out a winning flavour which is very Indian). Masala tea is highly popular overseas.

The food menu perfectly compliments the eclectic array of teas, with a range of European savouries and desserts interspersed with Bengali snack food. For instance savouries include Norwegian smoked salmon between mini bagels and date mustard (Rs 475), shrimp tartlets with Moroccan chermoule a spice (Rs 475), frittata with gruyere & onion jam (Rs 375) and Bengal style fish fingers with mustard (Rs 450). Each portion consists of six pieces. Desserts include British tea cake, New York cheesecake, apple cinnamon strudel, assortment of French macaroons and Hazelnut Praline Napoleon among others.

The highlight of the menu is a British hi-tea, called The Great Eastern hi-tea and interestingly, a Bengali take on hi-tea aptly named Jol Khabar. Both have a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian version. While the British one comprises of a selection from the savoury and dessert range, the Bengali one includes Bengal shingada with cauliflower & peanuts/ mangsher shingada, fish finger, jhalmuri and an assortment of sandesh among other things. The British one is priced Rs 1000 for veg and Rs 1200 for non-veg and Jol Khabar is Rs 850 and Rs 1050 for veg and non-veg versions respectively.

The hi-tea food items. Bengali at the sides and British in centre.
Jol Khabar- the Bengali take on hi-tea.

I tried the Great Eastern Darjeeling tea which I liked, followed by the fine British Earl Grey tea. To go with it I picked up a mini sandwich, chicken shingada, paneer wrap and cheesecake. The paneer wrap (with the wrap made of whole wheat) was good. The cheesecake was delicious and melt in the mouth, so I took a second helping.

My plate. The cheesecake in front and the wrap at right.

The lounge is open from 10 am to 9 pm.

Felt good to meet fellow bloggers Poorna Banerjee and the couple Anindya S Basu and Madhushree Basu Roy. Anindya is a gifted amateur photographer, as you can see from his pictures in this post.

Overall, a satisfying and truly different experience that will stay on the mind for a long time.

The details:
The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata
 1,2,3 Old Court House Street 
Dalhousie Square
Kolkata 700069 
Ph: 033 4444 7777

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