Kolkata’s only samovar tea shop is all about keeping the old brew steaming


Samovars — the large metallic vessels used to boil water to brew tea and coffee — were once a common site across India. With modernisation, these metal-urns that originated from Russia and then spread across the world in different shapes and sizes, were relegated to the odd tea stalls in parts of South India and Kashmir. In Kolkata though, there is one tea shop which has made this its unique selling proposition.

In Bentinck Street, everyone knows the ‘tanki chai’ shop. That’s also the only identity of the shop though it has been brewing away in this busy neighbourhood, famous for its Anglo-Indian musical instrument shops and Chinese shoe shops, for almost a century. There is another unique identity to the shop, the owner’s name is one everyone in India knows. But this ‘Mahendra Singh Dhoni’ — he claims that’s the name he uses — is all of 65 and only a namesake of the Indian cricketing icon.

samovars, samovars tea shops, samovar in india, kolkata samovar tea shop, kolkata tanki chai, kolkata copper boiler tea shop, kolkata heritage news, indian expresssamovars, samovars tea shops, samovar in india, kolkata samovar tea shop, kolkata tanki chai, kolkata copper boiler tea shop, kolkata heritage news, indian express The second-generation owner, who identifies himself as Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been selling tea for 40 years. (Express photo by Shashi Ghosh)

“People from all over the world come to visit the shop,” he says. “The unique taste that comes from the water boiled in copper vessels cannot be recreated. So, this tea leaves an ever-lasting impression,” he explains the secret behind the shop’s popularity over the many generations.

The shop is hard to miss because of the crowd outside, sipping tea from clay cups under an overhang of smoke spewing out of the 20-litre copper tank. The owner claims he manages to sell more than a thousand cups of tea a day.

samovars, samovars tea shops, samovar in india, kolkata samovar tea shop, kolkata tanki chai, kolkata copper boiler tea shop, kolkata heritage news, indian expresssamovars, samovars tea shops, samovar in india, kolkata samovar tea shop, kolkata tanki chai, kolkata copper boiler tea shop, kolkata heritage news, indian express It was his father who had started this shop in pre-independence era. (Express photo by Shashi Ghosh)

It was in 1920, that Juhuri Singh moved to the business hub of Calcutta from the United Provinces in search of a better life. To serve tea in the area which even then was full of government offices, Singh invested in a big copper samovar which could boil large quantities of water and keep it so for many hours. The present owner has been on the job for four decades.

Samovars were not rare in Kolkata till a few decades back. But most found it too laborious to maintain and moved on to other ways to brewing tea. For Dhoni, however, it is about keeping a tradition alive and also sticking to a process he finds easier to manage. In fact, while in tea shops in Kerala it is common to find samovars perched atop gas stoves, here it is done the old fashioned way with the vertical tube running up the middle of the urn ignited from below with charcoal and wood.

samovars, samovars tea shops, samovar in india, kolkata samovar tea shop, kolkata tanki chai, kolkata copper boiler tea shop, kolkata heritage news, indian expresssamovars, samovars tea shops, samovar in india, kolkata samovar tea shop, kolkata tanki chai, kolkata copper boiler tea shop, kolkata heritage news, indian express The humble establishment doesn’t even have a proper name or signboard but attracts many customers throughout the day. (Express photo by Shashi Ghosh)

Traditionally, a teapot is set atop the chimney extension to brew leaves, getting a rich concentrate of the liquor. A lighter brew is obtained by adding more water to the teacup…



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