It’s no exaggeration to say that I drank more cups of tea in the first month of 2020 than I did in the last decade. Seriously.
With morning tea being such a big thing in Guangzhou, it was inevitable that I’d be drawn in by the food aspect more than the drink itself, but the tea didn’t hurt! Bangladesh, however, is on a totally different level. I’ve mentioned the friendly people, but tea really is the other stand-out feature of this beautiful country.
Sreemangal, and the Sylhet Division in general, is Bangladesh’s tea capital; in fact it was the Brits who initially planted many of the tea plants here back in the 1800s. *Puts on David Brent voice*…who says colonisation has to be depressing?
After a rather disastrous journey from Dhaka to Sreemangal, I set out on my first morning with intentions of visiting Nilkantha Tea Cabin, a coffee shop known for its famous seven-layer tea. There are many varieties of this drink, which is basically a cup of tea with different coloured and tasting layers, throughout Sylhet Division. However it’s claimed that Romesh Ram Gour is the original inventor of the drink, so it seemed wise to accept no imitations and drink it straight from the horse’s mouth. Figuratively, not literally, of course.
Such is the demand for the famous concoction that Ram Gour has opened a second shop in Sreemangal slightly closer to the town. Naturally this shop was closed on the day I visited so my initial stance of “Ah it’s only a kilometre away, I can walk” very quickly turned to “Where’s a pestering bloody rickshaw driver when you need one?”.
To be honest, it was only another 10-15 minute walk up the pleasant, leafy, tea-lined road and the smoggy chaos of Dhaka that I left behind 24 hours earlier suddenly seemed a million miles away.
The first thing you notice upon entering is the amount of accolades and claims on the wall. There are seemingly endless print-outs of reviews and articles about the legendary tea and its creator, as well as the story of the drink itself next to a wall-mounted menu.
The next thing I realised was that the seven-layer tea had recently been upgraded to eight layers! Upon further reading, it seems Ram Gour will only stop when he manages to create a ten-layer tea. That’s some dedication.
Eight-layer tea was priced at a very reasonable 85 taka (77p) so I went ahead and ordered that. Unfortunately for me, the fella behind the counter didn’t have change for a 500 taka note, and I only had 75 taka in smaller notes. I gave up on any hope that he would let me off quite quickly, and compromised with the seven-layer tea which was priced at exactly 75 taka. I’ve convinced myself that the eighth layer would’ve tasted like shite anyway.
The drink took around 15 minutes to knock up, and it was fairly quiet when I went there with only about four other customers. I dread to think of the wait during peak hours, should they exist. The mastermind behind the concoction even closed the door to his workshop for the final few minutes of the brewing up process, no doubt to protect whatever secrets go towards the final product!
The drink arrived and I was a little unsure about how to attack it. My normal instinct had to be thrown out of the window as it seemed daft to gulp it all down in one with seven different flavours to try! In the end, I opted for a sipping approach which is very unlike me as I am perhaps the most impatient man in the world when it comes to food and drink.
It did taste good, I must admit. That being said, it was hard to put my finger on what most of the flavours were, as they were all varying degrees of ‘sweet’, ‘a bit sweeter’, ‘even sweeter’ and ‘the sweetest’. Still, definitely worth 75 taka (or 85 depending on your loose change situation!) to try it.
It was at this point I was joined by Shohan and Sakib at my table, who had hired a CNG (tuk tuk) and driver for the day, and very kindly offered me to join them as they saw the sights of Sreemangal and the surrounding areas. More on that here. Yet another example of the friendliness of Bangladeshi people. Long may it continue!