The aroma of cardamom and boiled milk lingers heavily inside the Wagh Bakri Tea Lounge. These may be the hottest days of the year, perhaps of the last decade, but almost every table on a hot afternoon has ordered a pot of their popular Masala Tea.
I, however, am happy to try out their range of iced teas which seems to be a more appropriate beverage for the weather. We start with the guava ice tea (Rs 110) blue ice tea (Rs 110), and an orange ice tea (Rs 100). The guava is way too sweet and I give up after a few sips; the blue tea, a legacy of the craze for Blue Curaçao in the early noughties, is better. It’s moderately sweet but there’s a hint of citrus notes and you can actually taste the tea. I like the orange tea the best; it’s refreshing, zesty and the tannic tea notes work better with orange flavour. I’m urged to try the apple ice tea (Rs 100): I find that it tastes like tea which has been strained through melted vanilla ice cream.
The Wagh Bakri Tea Lounges are a brand extension of Wagh Bakri tea, a brand owned by Gujarat Tea Processors & Packers Ltd – India’s third largest packaged tea company. The first tea lounge in Mumbai opened in Vile Parle seven years ago and was renovated earlier this year. I’m not much of a tea drinker so I had never visited the lounge, but it has been relatively well-received in the city and I was curious to see what the tea lounge chain was about. I was equally curious about the brand
Wagh Bakri was founded by entrepreneur and Gandhian Shri Narandas Desai who started out in 1892 with 500 acres of tea estate in South Africa. Like Gandhi, racism forced him to return to India with just a few valuables and ‘a certificate from Mahatma Gandhi for being the most honest and experienced tea estate owner in South Africa,’ says the company website.
‘The name Wagh Bakri,’ it says ‘symbolizes the co-existence of one and all creating long-lasting relationships in society by dissolving differences over a good cup of tea.’ The name was inspired in Gandhi’s belief in universal equality where the Wagh (the tiger) ostensibly representing the powerful and rich while the Bakri (the goat) represents the poor and disempowered shed their differences over a cup of tea.
The lounge has the sleek, modern look of most coffee chains: a service counter and food display at the entrance with a prep area behind. Seats are arranged along the walls and the plate-glass walls. A few kitschy elements like the teapot lamp, a tea-cup and saucer clock and a collection of handicraft teapots and cups give it an idiosyncratic touch. And most delightfully there’s a trapdoor in the restaurant into which a staff member will suddenly disappear and reappear with boxes of tea.
While the menu is naturally leans more towards beverages, they also offer a selection of small bites and sandwiches. One of the most popular items I’m told is the panini sandwich with veg filling. It’s a delightfully Indianised sandwich with a chatpatta filling of spicy, chutnified mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables inside an olive panini. It’s a fancier version of the popular potato-filled, grilled street sandwich and exactly the kind of hybrid Indian parents would make at home as an after-school snack.
One of the innovations that Wagh Bakri has introduced is tea with ice cream (Rs 150). this is not an iced tea but a milk tea which is chilled and topped with either butterscotch, vanilla or chocolate ice-cream. I ordered for butterscotch but since that wasn’t available they served it with vanilla. Obviously a riff on cold coffee, the chilled tea is an odd but amusing concoction. Like listening to a popular song for the first it takes a little while to wrap your head around it but if you had it often enough you’ start to like it.
I think Wagh Bakri has played it too safe with the choice of a plain milk tea and the ice cream flavours. If they had to experiment with it a bit more I’m sure they’d be able to come up with this exciting combinations.
Wagh Bhakri Tea Lounge
Opp Jain Temple
Vile Parle (E)
Mumbai 400 056
|Invited by PR company||Yes|
|Guest of the chef/ restaurant||Yes|
|Restaurant knew I’m a food writer||Yes|
|Meal comped by the restaurant||Yes|