I've been away a couple of weeks for my annual India trip. I thought I can share some thoughts related to tea and travelling in those countries.
In fact it is the first time I really think about it: I am more into Chinese greens, so I didn't care much about tea while travelling. I used to feel I have to go back home (or to China) for good tea...
This time I've been to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) too, but all the time I noticed that the average tea I drank (for breakfast, most of the times) was not at all bad.
I still have difficulties in describing the situation in Ceylon, I have not been travelling the coasts, and the inner side of the island is somewhat less developed. So you don't find big cities and big coffee chains, even if the average tea you get when you ask for black tea (always do so! otherwise you get chai tea = tea leaves boiled in little water with lots of boiled milk and sugar). Buying tea, though, seems to be difficult. I only got prepacked tea in Colombo, which looks a lot like a touristy souvenir (I have not tasted it yet): I have to say that on Saturdays afternoons, many tea shops were closed (I was told they open on Mondays). My idea is that the real good stuff is to be got directly from plantations, otherwise all is kept for exporting or blending.
In India, mainly in the biggest cities, there are two chains which are Barista http://www.barista.co.in/
and Coffee Day http://www.cafecoffeeday.com/
; while on one hand they try to prepare good expressoes and the like (failing to reach the Italian standard), if you ask for Darjeeling you get very good quality teabags (cotton bag, almost all whole leaves). As so, usually the problem is with plastic or paper cups and water temperature falling quickly.
To keep up with such a (relatively) high quality average tea, real tea houses have to be very wise in targeting their offer. I have visited Infinitea in Bangalore (2, Shah Sultan Complex, Cunningham Road, Bangalore 560 052; 0091 80 41148810/8428). The place is suited for the Indian and foreign 'fashionable' bar and lounge crowds, with posters on the walls and drinks mimicking cocktails. (A point about Bangalore and Karnataka - Bangalore's state - in general is that they have a very conservative government board and they don't allow people to drink after 11 pm. In fact no bar or restaurant is open after 11, and this idea about tea-based alchool-free cocktails is really nice: infact here they made a poster in which you read 'drink (tea) and drive'.)
But when it comes to tea the thing gets serious. The list has black, oolong and green teas, almost all coming from their 50 years old plantation in Darjeeling (they have some Nilgiri too, but these come from the South and are not from their plantation). The staff is very very kind and helpful, without being overly gentle, which sometimes happens.
I tried one of their oolongs (50% oxidized, no roasting at all), and one of their greens. The oolong was my favourite, but, probably because they are from the same plantation, the 'basic' of these teas tastes the same after all. Really good tea experience.
They made some 50 grs packs for me (usually they seal 100 grs packs). I learned from Gauravs, the owner, that they are starting an e-shop, but their website http://www.infinitea.in/
is still in progress. They should be mailing in India only, first, and starting selling abroad later.
I wish we had something similar here in Venice!