Who put ‘malai’ in my tea?

The first sip of the tea tastes like basundi. Unbelievable? We think so too and take our second sip. This time, we pay more attention — no, that’s plain old cream with sugar crystals sprinkled on top. But who would’ve thought that a glass of tea would be topped with this? It takes around four sips for us to reach the actual tea at Devi Thaeneer Vidudhi near Begum Street in Triplicane. Around 20% of the glass is filled with their famous malai. At Devi, you order tea, and you get the malai variety. If you want the regular, unadventurous stuff, you have to inform tea ‘master’ M Anand.

The 28-year-old keeps the stove with the milk vessel on through the day. As a result, the milk is thick; Anand dutifully lets the cream that forms sit undisturbed. “So more malai keeps getting formed,” he tells us, ‘cutting’ tea in one swift motion for an auto driver, his regular customer.

Anand has been making tea at the shop for eight years. “Malai tea is my owner’s idea,” he says, adding that he knows only a handful of teashops in the city making this kind. “They are Golden Tea Stall and MAP on Ellis Road,” he explains, “And our other branch at Zam Bazaar.”

Priced at ₹ 8, a glass of tea at Devi is made under a minute. It’s an experience seeing Anand make it: he grabs one of the just washed tea glasses from the counter and rinses the insides with steaming hot water from a kettle. The glass tinkles as he spoons in sugar, followed by thick milk. The decoction comes next, which Anand lets spill into the glass like a tiny waterfall. One gigantic ‘cutting’ later, the tea is served with a topping of gleaming malai and sugar.

The amiable tea ‘master’ could be leaving for his hometown to get married in a year or two. “My family is looking for a suitable bride for me,” he says, smiling into the kettle. “Oru tea, without malai,” a customer walks in and tells him, and Anand grabs his next glass.

Anand makes around 300 cups of tea every day. How many does he have? “Three,” he says, when the auto driver, who’s been listening to our conversation, cuts in: “Five, admit it,” he laughs. Anand grins, saying, “Believe me, I don’t have more than three cups a day.” He doesn’t have the malai tea though. “Too much of malai can cause colds,” he explains.

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