Every day morning in B.B.D.Bagh, Kolkata’s commercial hub, is an extraordinary space. Also known as office para, the area is a living example of chaos, capturing the traffic-congested streets crowded with people, either hustling to work or gulping down for breakfast at the street-side eateries, which serve almost everything — a plate of rice and fish, bread omelette, chowmein, luchi-aloo dum, chilli chicken and fried rice, etc. But all this hubbub comes to a stop at Mahendra Da’s Samovar Tea shop, not because it’s any less crowded, but just because of how extraordinary the tea served here is.
What makes it so extra-special, you ask? It is the mighty kettle-like metal container called samovar, which prepares soul-stirring nourishment served in clay cups, all day long, to boost the city’s workforce. Head away in a corner of Bentinck Street, this 101-year-old tiny tea joint is a must-try, thanks to both crowds of tea-lovers, as well as this 20-litre copper vessel. One of the few breathing Samovar tea shops in the country, Mahendra Da’s store, locally known as ‘tanki chai dokan’, is the one and only in Kolkata that serves tea prepared in a samovar. A samovar is much more than just a copper boiler. Today one can see samovar tea shops in parts of South India and even Kashmir. In Bengal, however, it is old and antique, attentively kept alive by the Samovar tea shop, led by 66-year-old Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Unlike other samovar tea stalls in South India, which use gas stoves as a heat producer, Mahendra likes to rise with tradition and make use of fire made with charcoal and wood that blow heat by a vertical tube inside the copper turns slow to brew the tea leaves. Serving more than a thousand cups a day, this tea maker is doing something worthwhile, keeping a unique brewing technique alive, hoping that future generations will follow.