One Friday evening, a bunch of bloggers and food reviewers found themselves at a table with Kavita Mathur, co-founder of Tea Trails, a chain of cosy tea-themed restaurants across Mumbai. When I received the invite for this ‘food lovers’ meet’ at Tea Trails Kala Ghoda (near Mamagoto and Trishna), I knew I had to be there, given that I own a mind-boggling variety of gourmet teas and love experimenting with them on weekend afternoons.
The other two tea cafes I have frequented and loved are Cha Bar and Tea Centre, both at Churchgate. After eating and drinking my way through a substantial part of their menu, I can say with confidence that Tea Trails is the best tea café in Mumbai, as per my experience.
Course 1: White tea and bun maska
Like wine, tea can also be paired with various food items and so for each course, we had something to sip and something to bite into. From Kavita, I learnt that tea brewers are called ‘teastas’, on the lines of baristas. The white tea was light and pristine while the bun maska was decadent, laced with sugar and filled with fresh, soft butter. Educating us on the nuances of brewing green tea, Kavita revealed that the water should never be boiling hot and instead at 70 to 80 degree Celsius.
Course 2: Kashmiri Kahwa and Burmese tea salad
This according to me was the best course of the entire meal. With copious amounts of peanuts, sesame seeds and a scrumptious tea dressing, the salad was supremely delicious and refreshing.
Kashmiri Kahwa is essentially green tea with various spices and this one was perfect – we could discern the spicy sweetness of cloves and cardamom. Kavita told us that green tea gets its colour from the process of withering, which enables the leaves to lose moisture. An avid traveller and educationist, Kavita encountered many tea lounges abroad which encouraged her to start her own.
Course 3: Flower tea and bruschetta
This meal was all about the tea, which is why I mention them first and then the dishes. The flower tea was visually quite dramatic – oolong tea was poured into a jug with a chrysanthemum in it and the flower began to bloom once the tea enveloped it. The bruschetta was great – large crispy pieces with tons of jalapeno and tasty tomato pesto.
Course 4: Jasmine tea and cottage cheese platter
Jasmine tea is one of my favourites and this one did not disappoint. It came with a substantial cottage cheese platter consisting of grilled cottage cheese fillets, herbed rice, a smoky garlic sauce, fried potato wedges and boiled carrots and broccoli. It was a complete meal and I enjoyed it except for the slightly tough and chewy paneer.
At this point, Kavita gave us some general pointers on tea and food pairing:
- White tea: Fruits, lightly flavoured desserts
- Black tea: Mutton
- Oolong: Chicken, seafood
- Green tea: Seafood, salads, mild fondue
- Darjeeling tea: Chinese food, light desserts
Course 5: Three cheese risotto with tea oils
The three cheese risotto was garnished with tea leaves and there were two kinds of ‘tea oils’ to go with it. The chilli and green tea oils were served in beautiful glass containers and the flavour was very faint but the moisture helped me eat the otherwise lumpy risotto. However, the cheese used in the risotto was excellent and I loved the tea oil concept. There was tea salt on the table as well – prepared by mixing dried tea leaves with salt.
Course 6: Chinese black tea with smoked paneer sandwich
This was my second favourite course of the meal. An excellent smoky and full-bodied black tea was paired with delicious paneer and caramelised onion brown bread sandwiches. I love food that has a hint of sweetness and the tea was different from anything I’d tasted thus far. Incidentally, this outlet is pure vegetarian due to some issues with the landlord but the other outlets do serve meat. According to Kavita, men enjoy smoky tea more because it tastes like single malt!
Course 7: Bubble tea
After this, we proceeded to try a variety of exotic teas and food items that weren’t exactly paired with each other. I’ve always wanted to try bubble tea and my wish was fulfilled at Tea Trails. I tried the lychee bubble tea and the Taiwanese tapioca bubble tea and I finally understood what all the fuss was about. It was juice infused with little flavour balls that burst in my mouth in the most delectable manner. I loved the tapioca tea but the flavour balls were solid and tough to chew. The lychee tea was an absolute winner.
Course 8: Better wife and green tea hummus with pita bread
The better wife cocktail had us all intrigued, thanks to its name. Served in a cute mason jar, it was yellow, thick and slightly sour – a fruity cocktail all right but not really my cup of tea. The olive and green tea hummus and pita bread on the other hand was just excellent. I dug into the hummus several times and it had a deeper flavour than the traditional one.
Course 9: Matcha shake and matcha and broccoli soup
Matcha is a Japanese green available in powder form. It has a lot of health benefits and we tried a milky shake infused with matcha. The vegetal taste of matcha takes some getting used to but it grows on you. It did have an unexpected aftertaste. The soup had the same vegetal flavour but broccoli and milk made it more palatable and I enjoyed the creamy texture. Kavita revealed that matcha is often used in pastries and cookies.
Course 10: Khullar chai and onion pakoras
The khullar chai came close to the traditional masala chai with cloves and cardamom and was absolutely delicious. After all those gourmet greens and whites, it didn’t hurt to go back to my roots and sip the earthy deliciousness of spiced and warming Indian chai served in a baked clay khullar.
Pairing it with onion pakoras was a great idea and the pakoras were crispy and soft in all the right places.
Course 11: Lemon iced tea and cheese corn tikka
The lemon and mint iced tea was wonderful and zesty, with a touch of mint. It was paired with a tasty cheese corn tikka – crispy and oozing with cheesy goodness. Kavita told us to have the detox tea if we ever caught a cold. We asked for a must have tea and she cited the white tea.
Course 12: Five spice tea and corn on the cob
The five spice tea was pregnant with the fragrance and taste of several Indian seeds and spices and I enjoyed it as much as the khullar chai, if not more. The dish was beautifully presented – corn cobs dusted with pepper and lemon served on a bed of corn leaves and salad, with one cob sitting pretty in an earthen cup. I tasted just a little, there being no room in my stomach for anything but a sweet treat. And it was delicious – juicy, sweet and perfect for a rainy afternoon. We asked Kavita for a funny incident involving tea and she told us about her time in Hong Kong where the servers keep refilling your tea cup until you say you’ve had enough!
Course 13: Desserts! In order of preference:
I was really too stuffed at this point but who needs room for dessert, right? We pretty much pounced on the red velvet pastry but in an interesting twist, it didn’t turn out to be the best of the four pastries we tried.
Dutch truffle: This in my opinion was the best – classic chocolate cake which did not disappoint.
Mix fruit pastry: Not everyone liked it but I enjoyed the slight tang in the fruit pastry. I usually find fruit pastries to be too creamy but this one was great.
Red velvet pastry: I tend to have high expectations from red velvet pastry and the version at Tea Trails is not the best I’ve had. It looks great though, drizzled with a fruit compote and is still a good choice if you MUST have red velvet cake.
Black forest: I’m not a great fan of black forest but the one I had was quite delicious.
So, to summarise, the teas we sampled included white, green and black teas, oolong flower tea, masala chai, Japanese matcha tea, bubble teas, iced tea, tisanes (herbal teas) and mocktails. My only regret was having just one piece of that divine bun maska. I’m definitely coming back with a vegetarian friend to gorge on that along with the khullar chai. What about you?
P.S.: You can also purchase gourmet teas in beautiful tin boxes with the Tea Trails branding. The teas are manufactured by Chado Tea India, one of the best premium tea brands in the country.
Featured image courtesy: http://www.teatrailsindia.com
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