Mittal Teas is a long standing institution in Sunder Nagar, a small and unpretentious yet precious tea shop run by a Mr. Vikram Mittal. A family run business, Mr. Mittal stepped into his father’s shoes as a young man for practical reasons rather than passion driven ones- preferring to keep the shop within the family despite his initial disinterest in tea. Over the years however, disinterest evolved into passion and passion into second nature. Mr. Mittal knows from the color, the smell, the texture of the tea leaves, what kind of tea it is, when it was picked, what flush it belongs to.
The meticulous nature in which Mr. Mittal runs his shop calls out to you from the moment you walk through the door, and the old tea filled cannisters and precisely labeled masalas and jars of dried fruit lining the shelves lend a preciousness to the experience. He welcomed my mother and me in warmly, and immediately prepared a pot of first flush darjeeling tea and ordered kachoris from the neighborhood snack stall to go with it.
Over tea, a gentle and reminiscent conversation ensued about the resilient beauty of the small and troubled Lebanon – the valleys, the mountains, the beaches, the hospitality, and the sun drenched balcony where we all first met on a warm summer day, instantly bound together by the unadulterated view of the Mediterranean from the mountains. We were pulled out of our collective memory every now and again by his other regular customers, coming in to re-stock on their favorites- mango tea, vanilla bean, and dried lychees.
With the pot of tea emptied and the kachoris long devoured, we eventually said our good-byes and left the store with all the tea we could carry.
I don’t love tea. But I am drawn to the significance it holds in my culture. It is had in every household rich or poor, as much in the grueling summers as in the mild winters. When one has guests over, immediately a fresh pot of tea and some biscuits are brought out without a second thought. A morning cup of tea marks the beginning of the day just as an evening cup marks its close. Tea is more than a beverage. It is a marker of time, a symbol of hospitality, a daily comfort often taken with milk and sugar.