At 12pm on Saturday I boarded a train in the middle of India (Shahdol in MP); nearly 48 hours later I got off in the south (Kerala). In all that time I did not see one clay tea-cup (nor did I have a good cup of tea – though I had many very sweet ones). I got off at each station -major junctions and small towns all – and scanned for an old style chaiwallah: alas I did not see one. Perhaps they don’t come to the 2nd class A/C end of the train (which admittedly is a very long walk given the snaking length of most Indian trains).
I can report though that the clay tea cup is alive and well in Calcutta. Streetside chai stalls are legion in this city and most of them offer a choice of cups – clay, glass and ceramic -from which to take your tea. Disposable clay cups are preferred by those who have issue with drinking from a cup that another ‘s mouth has touched. For a devout Brahmin drinking from a cup that had been used by someone else would be anathema and require them to undergo a convoluted cleansing ritual to restore their caste purity. Others may simply prefer them over the ceramic and glass cups that will in all probability have been washed in water of questionable hygiene.
Sadly I did not enjoy any clay cup chai while in Calcutta. My stopping anywhere for more than a few seconds results in an instantaneous crowd of beggars, peddlers of various items and slimy men surrounding me. On one occasion I stopped to look at my map and a nearby policeman said ‘madam can I help you with anything’ …all the time playing with his crotch and smirking towards a group of fellow officers (what a hero!). As streetside teastalls are patronised almost exclusively by men I could not be bothered subjecting myself to the staring, giggling and jostling of each other (while fiddling with their googly bits) that would ensue because a white women was in close -stationary- proximity taking a cup of tea.
Instead I took myself to the Oberoi Grand hotel to take respite from the hasslers and where I had expected I would get a decent cup of tea (in the ‘british style’). After placing my order it took 20 minutes for the tea to arrive. When it did the waitress poured me a small cup of some luke warm tasteless brew (it was meant to be Earl Grey) from a large pot (with no hint of a refill). This non-descript brew cost me 155 rupees: that is 31 times the going rate of 5 rupees for street or train chai. I figure the 145 rupee difference was the price of having it in peace.