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DOLLY’S TURNS 25
Memories over a cup-shaped cake lit up the 25th birthday celebration of Dolly’s — The Tea Shop, at Dakshinapan Shopping Complex on Wednesday evening. “One of my first patrons was Aparna’s father (Chidananda Dasgupta) who’d drop in every week for a cup of tea. I remember Aparna was partial to autumn (flush) Darjeeling,” recalled Dolly. Moon Moon Sen confessed her love for Darjeeling Second Flush though her daughters prefer green tea. “I have it (green tea) when I’m with them sometimes. But who’s bothered about losing weight?” she joked. Pictures: Rashbehari Das

As soon as I crossed the threshold just the other day at Dolly’s — The Tea Shop, at the Dakshinapan Shopping Complex in Dhakuria, I had a feeling that people get only when they feel genuinely comfortable. This unique tea shop/tea cafe/excellent snacking stop/lovely place to relax and make friends is going to be 25 years young on February 2.

I first visited Dolly’s in 1998 and it was a pleasure writing about a place which was already 10 years old and I can certainly say that the feel and spirit of this cosy, well-appointed, warm and welcoming place was the same in 1988 as it is now. Not that Dolly Roy, whose baby it is, has not made it evolve, in terms of what we can get there. Of course she has. Several more varieties of tea for people who will buy to take home or to gift their near and dear, also, more imaginative concoctions with tea featuring in sections of the menu such as Ice Tea, Dolly’s Specials, Dolly’s Greens and Dolly’s Latest Novelties, but in the main, the pedigree and the knowledge behind the subject of tea, which can easily compare with the nuances of a subject like wine, is more than evident, as it has always been. Teas from the Nilgiris, Darjeeling, Assam, Uttaranchal and Kangra, selections of organic and green teas and orthodox Earl Grey are available for the buyer, packaged in various ways such as for gifts or small amounts, but at no time is the quality of the tea sacrificed. Customers can also opt for on-the-spot blends.

Other add-ons are in the food menu. Put together the sandwiches (plain or grilled), the pastas, fries, salads and sweet items, and there are about 30-odd items to choose from, making Dolly’s not just the only tea boutique of its kind in the city, if not the country, but a fully-fledged al fresco cafe. The snacks are also delicately and tastefully made and presented. I had a Ham Sandwich that day which was delicious, but light and subtle. For future visits, there is already an agenda: Cheese Sandwich and Ham Salad washed down with Darjeeling Second Flush and at some other time Ham and Chicken Club Sandwich with Assam CTC. The permutations and combinations could keep people going back for years without repeating their pairings of teas and snacks.

The section of the menu on Iced Tea is the most extensive, which makes a lot of sense considering Calcutta’s climate calendar. Most of the teas on offer have a word or two describing them, such as “Yankee brew”, “Darj sip ’mango dip”, “summer trimmer” or “gingerale knockout” and in the section on hot teas some of these descriptions sound like what a tea taster might say — “mellow, sweet, rich and mature”, “first flush, light aromatic”, “a touch of smoke from Makaibari” or “strong and gutty”.

Dolly does, in fact, have the distinction of being India’s first woman tea taster and the world’s first woman tea auctioneer. With credentials like that, it’s not surprising that hers is a destination that oozes pedigree. Another consideration, to my mind, has to be that with her background, she could easily have been a serious corporate person, upwardly mobile forever, but ever since the idea was born to have her own tea boutique during her days as a world traveller, she has nurtured it like a living child and been comfortable in the classy little nook she has created.

The feel of the place is infectious and has attracted people of all ages and callings. Sometimes four generations of the same family will roll up in prams and wheelchairs for an adda and an afternoon or evening well spent. To the pram might go Tut Fruitea (“fruit shake with ice cream and jam”) and to the wheelchair might go Makaibari Roasted (“a light high fire in your cup”).

Dolly also has a faithful and experienced team helping run the place, most of whom have been with her virtually from the beginning, and who understand well the virtues of hospitality, presentation, an eye for detail and being spick and span.

In the good number of years that I have visited innumerable places to write about them, the most important thing to learn has been that consistency, sustainability and longevity are the three things hardest to achieve in the food industry. To have a silver jubilee in a place that speaks of tastefulness, doesn’t sell colas and burgers and has no obvious commercial intent, is no joke.

Hats off, Dolly.

“I remember coming here as a child 24 years ago and dreaming many dreams over cups of tea. Dolly is an inspiration to women for going into a terrain no other woman has gone into.”
— Kiran Uttam Ghosh

“Do you know that Dolly even has an outlet in South Korea? It just speaks so highly about her many accomplishments.”
— Sanjay & Minu Budhia

“I’ve known Dollydi and Saugatada since I got married into the (Neotia) family… so that’s about 27 years. Her packed boxes of tea make beautiful gifts.”
— Madhu Neotia