I look out of the window and enjoy the chilly weather in Udhagamandalam. Inside, Nirmal Raj of Buddies Cafe — Tea Board Tea Room is concentrating on brewing a perfect cup of tea.
His newly-opened cafe, conveniently located near the scenic Botanical Gardens, is the town’s first tea room. It is also the country’s first cafe that is backed by Tea Board India, a Government agency that promotes the cultivation, processing, trade and export of tea. A tray, with three classic kettles, arrives. Nirmal spoons tea leaves into basket strainers nestled in the pots and sets an hourglass timer. Exactly five minutes later, I am revelling on the calming flavours and relaxing scent of peach tea.“The traditional hourglass tea timer gives the exact brewing time for any type of infusion or tea. It is five minutes for herbal and fruit infusions and three minutes for black tea,” explains Nirmal as he fills the glass with another pink-hued hot brew named Old Memories. It is tangy and sweet, with flavours of black currants, raspberry, cherries, kiwis, blue berries and hibiscus.
For a cuppa
- Located in the RCTC Building, Garden Road, the tea room is open from 10.30 am to 9 pm on all days.
- Book in advance for a tea tasting session where you can taste customised varieties and learn about the history of tea (₹2500 for a session for four).
- Call: 8220804250
- Visit @buddiescafe on Instagram
The boutique tea room showcases the teas of the Nilgiris, says M Balaji, executive director of Tea Board India. He adds, “There are many small growers who make speciality teas that reach customers as far as Belgium, Russia and Germany. We identified Nirmal and provided the space under the Tea Board banner to help such small tea growers. We plan to come up with six speciality tea boutiques across Ooty in the next two or three months.”
Nirmal works with about 10 small tea growers in the Nilgiris, sourcing white, green, yellow, black and oolong tea from them. The white tea served at Buddies comes from tea bushes grown at pollution-free high altitudes. His objective is to popularise tea drinking as an experience, not just among tourists but also among locals. “Virgin green tea is whole green leaf tea which we source from a farmer who allows biodynamic cultivation without using any pesticides. Baimudan white tea comes from a farmer in Kotagiri, who switched to organic farming.”
Other varieties are Nilgiris Long Ging (where leaves are punched in a single line) from a farmer in Coonoor, and Nilgiris Dew Drops, which has leaves rolled like dewdrops. There is also a Yellow tea, with leaves that are steamed and fermented.
As I enjoy Peace of Mind, an uplifting, cold, rose-tinted beverage made from a blend of blueberry, mint, lime, vanilla and black tea, Nirmal explains that the cafe stocks over 150 varieties of tea, with prices starting from ₹450 and going up to ₹21,000 (for one kg) for varieties like Champagne-infused tea . In addition to trying local estates, customers can order brews from around India, and the world. “Our blooming teas from the Northeast — jasmine flowers hand knotted with white tea and guava-flavoured ones are fast sellers,” says Nirmal.
The menu also lists South African red bush teas (Rooibos teas), Japanese matcha, Australian berries, and Egyptian herbal infusions as well as Assam’s moonlight and Darjeeling’s Earl Grey infused with bergamot citrus extract. “Among artisanal teas, orange pu-ruh is unique as the leaves grow on a tree. The leaves are baked and then hand rolled to lock in the flavours. Laspang tea from China has a unique smoky flavour,” says Nirmal.
I try the aromatic and instantly refreshing Egyptian peppermint followed by Queen tea, an in-house sweet-savoury handcrafted black tea, made with six ‘secret’ ingredients and a dash of salt. There is something oddly familiar about the drink. May be from pepper? or citrus infusion?
Buddies Cafe was originally started at Hopes College in Coimbatore in 2012 and later at Peelamedu and Coimbatore Airport. Nirmal moved back to Udhagamandalam when the pandemic stuck. He then launched the tea room in February, last year.
This initiative is the outcome of 10 years of hard work, ups and downs in his journey as an entrepreneur, and constant research on tea, experimenting with flavours and blends. But it all began with his father, Daniel Dhanaseelan who worked as a manager and taster at government tea estates in the Nilgiris in the ’80s. “We were literally surrounded by tea,” says Nirmal, adding with a smile, “I would nap on gunny sacks filled with leaves. At night, our home would be filled with aromas from the manufacturing units.”