Meghalaya lives in a constant state of monsoons which is to say that it is cold, humid, and almost at all times there’s a feeling of wetness that invites something warm and welcoming like tea or coffee to calm the nerves and to keep temperatures at a constant within the body. The warmth of a good tea is truly unparalleled which is why tea is so much more than just a beverage.
When you come home tired after a hard day’s work, a cup of good tea can really bring peace and relaxation instantly. If a weary traveler wanders by and decides to rest at your porch, it’s a gesture of good will and an offer of peace to hand them a cup of warm tea. In Meghalaya and its villages, if you visit someone’s home even for a short while, you will be offered a warm glass of tea not necessarily made from common tea leaves, but with flowers, medicinal plants and herbs; and that is a gesture of love and welcome we present to the visitors.
Did you know that even before the British introduced tea farming, tea cultivation has been a part of Meghalaya’s culture? People here consume tea whenever there may be a chance to indulge in the moment which is to say at least 4 times a day and the tea is not drunk in a paper Nescafe cup that hardly holds 4 sips, we drink tea in mugs and fill it up a little below the brink. It is clearly evident that we love to drink tea whenever we can. But that’s not the point is it?
If at all you enter a Khasi home for a visit they ay greet you with the “sha saw” this is tea made from black tea leaves or you may be offered the “kwai” which is a concoction prepared from betel leaves and the betel nut. These are special kinds of teas that represent love for the guests.
There are many special kinds of teas that are not well known to the world. Let us guide you through a few of these really intriguing concoctions which can make for a great alternative to the regular milk tea that we are so accustomed to drinking. Be prepared to enter a whole new world of brewed goodness that is not “TEA” and yet is:
This drink is very historical because this is what people offered to one another even before tea leaves were introduced by the British. This is a hot drink that is made by boiling deeply roasted rice. The flavor profile imitates both coffee as well as tea which make it unique, because the taste of a good roast, when mixed in warm water in it is pretty mesmerizing. This tea can now be found in most stores across the state as it was made famous by tourists who preferred to consume this instead of the general tea they are known to consume.
This is another tea that is made from a root of a plant called the Smilax. It was originally used to treat weak bones and mild fevers, but now it is drunk as a medicinal beverage. You might be thinking, isn’t medicine bitter and so who would ever drink a bitter beverage on an everyday basis? But wait there’s more to it the root is known to have a slightly sweet flavor profile which naturally sweetens the drink and tastes of fresh herbs.
Now the roselle flower is wildly grown, not just for its wonderful vibrant red beauty, but for its really dark ruby red hue that it oozes upon boiling, which is used for the process of natural dyeing, and also as a concoction which tastes slightly sour, very fruity as well as floral and automatically refreshes you with its natural fragrance. The tea is called “sha jajew” in its vernacular. This beverage attracts many tourists to try a new concoction when they are in town. One may even find some really good cafes to offer roselle tea as a complimentary welcome drink every time they visit the café which in my opinion is some excellent marketing. Red is as is observed as an auspicious color in these parts of the country.
The special green tea:
So this one is very innovative and unique in its flavor profiles, but I can assure you the flavors are balanced beyond expectation and ends up tasting better than your expectations. The tea is a measured combination of green tea, lakadong turmeric and the roselle flowers. The lakadong turmeric which is also called the “shynrai” in the vernacular is a super spice, this is because it is known to produce the highest content of curcumin, which lends turmeric its medicinal properties along with its yellow pigmentation and is highly valued; is added to the tea lending it it’s earthy flavor. The green tea leaves, which are highly potent and also help increase metabolism; lends the tea its subtle bitterness. But the one ingredient that completely brings the two flavors together and also brings life to the concoction is the roselle flower. The taste of the flower is so fruity and subtly sour that one may never know it was made from a flower. And this is how this tea becomes the amazing concoction it is.
By now I am pretty much tempted to try one of these teas from Meghalaya but for now, it is best to settle for the usual tea I have lying in the kitchen. Maybe I should head to NE Origins and browse through their special teas section and grab a box of roselle tea or the nong mang-kha tea that they have available. Maybe then I will come close to feeling like I was in a café in Meghalaya.