Have you heard of BT Starbucks? BT stands for “Better Than”. The three café’s up here in the Himalayan Mountainside have been christened BT Starbucks, BT Costa and BT Barista. Each serves up one thing neither Starbucks, Costa or Barista can. They serve Simplicity. You go there and sit on the basic wooden bench and order a cup of tea, and that is exactly what you get. If you don’t say otherwise, it automatically comes with sugar.  None of the three has the Teavana Shaken Iced Berry Sangria Herbal Tea Grande on the menu. Yes, that’s a real drink at Starbucks. Yes, that is just one drink, not three.

BT Starbucks does only “wood fired” tea because the owner does not use LPG or kerosene. We can discuss how eco-friendly that is. Best to do so in a Café Coffee Day where the Air Conditioning is set to teeth chattering. None of the cafes up here have air-conditioning. Actually, I am not sure they all even have electricity. You see, they close well before dark.

So imagine my shock when I went to a tea shop in the neighbouring village of Reetha, and the shopkeeper asked if we wanted regular or herbal tea. I was with my friend Nitin. I looked at him and found his eyebrows were attempting paragliding as well. We both sat down and agreed to try the herbal tea.

It was lovely. A clear golden-brown color, the rich smell of herbs – all served up in simple steel glasses and cups. The tea was free of sugar – sweetened naturally with a herb called Stevia. One could taste some rather distinct flavours. And the size of the serving was also just right – not an attempt to sink the titanic.

We had to come back to Reetha the next day to meet someone. As happens often in the

The man himself – Harinder ji

hills, we had to wait. So we had another round of the herbal tea. It was still great, but a little different from the previous day. The Rosemary was stronger. The sweetness a little less.


You see, the owner of tea-shop – a very friendly man named Harinder Singh – is not a barista. He does not have a single definition of perfection which he has decided to foist on all humanity. He said they tried slight variations and something new came up. And their customers enjoyed it.

So we got chatting about how he made the tea. Harinder Singh ji readily showed us all the ingredients – some which he had kept carefully in ziplock packets, some in plastic jars (see slideshow). It was obvious he took joy in growing and drying these herbs. With much pride he explained some trade secrets-

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like mixing Rhododendrnon flowers with the Stevia makes a better sweetener. He enjoyed the appreciation and special attention he got from us.

What made the tea completely unbelievable was the price tag of 10 rupees. So the next time I am travelling to the city and we want to catch up, please don’t ask me to meet at a Starbucks. Where I come from, I can get 29 cups of real herbal tea for the price of one Teavana Shaken Iced Berry Sangria Herbal Tea Grande.

And if you frequent Starbucks, come and stay at Reetha for a few days. Your savings on herbal tea will pay for your entire trip.

(Title photo credit : Ek Chidiya Cottage)

About Chetan Mahajan:  Chetan is a full-time author who lives in a village in the Kumaon Himalayas. He published his first book with Penguin, and is working on his next one. The amazing creative influence of the Himalayas inspired him to start the Himalayan Writing Retreats: writing getaways for both novice and advanced writers. You can learn more about these retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .  He also writes and edits this blog.

12 thoughts on “Star-for-fewer-bucks

  1. It’s frightening how simple pleasures of life have been so terribly commercialised. God that there are places like Reetha which still remain untouched. Hope it stays this way forever! As usual, a great article chetan! Keep them coming 👍


  2. I ve missed having the herb tea .. but bt Starbucks , bt barista were super , and not to forget the samosa with it ( if already not sold out ) … sitting in gurgaon with my giant mug of tea I am so wanting to get teleported to Reetha right now 🤔🤔☕️☕️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Waking up to this brew of herbal tea and nature’s bounty, I realised how precious simple joys of life are…especially as the new generation is all ‘starry’ eyed for the whiff of coffee as Chetan woul say! As for us city dwellers I can only say…its beautifully captured and ” yeh dil maange more:)”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. O Chetan, you are so funny! I grinned all the way, as my nostrils took in the aroma of the tea, so beautifully, sensitively and joyfully brewed by Harinder Jee. I so loved reading about this tea-expedition and journey of discovery of yours. The crazy price. I hate Starbucks and all the names there. They are confusing and utterly unnecessary. I can’t get a simple cup of chai or coffee there, it’s frightening. Please take me there next time i hop across on the rickety Shatabdi. LOVE your posts…keep ’em coming bro uh, mate!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Harinder Singh Ji also takes great pride in his knowledge of farming. For the next time you go up there for some herbal tea. 🙂


  6. Having worked at Starbucks for 12 years, I completely agree on the “BT” labeling – Bux is so over the top in every way (price, choices, ingredients, advertising), it’s an obscene joke!

    Liked by 1 person

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