City Food – Chandelier Tea, United Coffee House
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There’s something about chandeliers. They evoke a kind of nostalgia for past grandeur even if that grandeur never existed.
It is to soak in such a feeling that The Delhi Walla frequents the venerable United Coffee House. One of the few surviving remains of the Colonial-era Connaught Place, it opened in 1942. Despite a recent renovation, it is sublimely pickled in the aroma of yesteryears.
One cook, for instance, has been working in the kitchen for more than 50 years. I personally know a circle of friends who, since last 40 years, meet up here almost every morning for tea and sandwiches.
And now I’m becoming a regular because of our fascination for the cafe’s two giant chandeliers hanging from two domes, evoking the final years of the British Raj. I summon the magic by ordering the Darjeeling tea, which the waiter serves in a white cup. It’s in this black brew that we view the chandelier—its reflection glowing so perfectly that it appears as if a miniature chandelier has been discreetly dropped, like a sugar cube, into the cup.
I do know that the chandelier isn’t as old as the café. And that it was made in China, but so what? The magic is in the reflected image. An exquisite illusion, this, in sharp contrast with the grit of Delhi itself. For a few minutes, I feel part of something quietly graceful, and that’s such a pleasure.
Waiter, there’s a chandelier in my tea!