Muhammad Ali – owner and Chief Tea Master, the Riverside Tea shop, Karadigodu village
The Riverside Tea shop is the centre and focus of Karadigodu village in many ways. It is a social nerve centre around which locals villagers and residents of the village across the river gather to meet friends, exchange gossip, and most of all, have tea!
The centre of attention at the riverside tea shop is Muhammad Ali, whose ‘one metre long teas’ (an allusion to the peculiar tea mixing technique where the tea is poured from one mug to another with arms stretched end to end forming a long frothy ribbon of milky tea) is as gripping as the village history and happenings spoken about.
Muhammad Ali’s father Eandhen Muhammed (fondly called Eandhen Kaka) – a dignified, soft spoken gentleman (as remembered by the Ramapuram Family) and wife Kadhija came to Coorg from Kerala in 1935 and, soon thereafter, joined the Chikkanahalli Estate as a rubber tapper when most of it was a rubber plantation before being planted with coffee in the 60s. All their children – four sons and two daughters – were born in the estate and grew up there.
Muhammad Ali formally began working on the plantation in 1973 as a rubber tapper at the age of 17, and continued working in this capacity until 1988 when he finally left to open the Riverside Tea shop. He has fond memories of those early years of his life on the estate and the cordiality he and his family shared with members of the resort’s founding family who own the Chikkanahalli plantation.
The transformation from a talented tapper to a Tea Master was as effortless as it was noteworthy. The Riverside tea shop was (and still remains) the only tea shop in the locality that has become a landmark over the years.
Though filled with experience from the book of life and graced by the pages of a vibrant and colourful history, Muhammad Ali is a shy and self-effacing man who needed to be prodded a bit to share his remarkable life with us.
He likes nothing better than to cook those steaming delicacies ( a part of the Malayali muslim culinary heritage he inherited) for breakfast and, of course, make those wonderfully strong, sweet, hot (and ‘long’) teas from morning till night. They symbolize the culmination of a long and fulfilling personal journey. It is a humble reminder of the possibility of the art that lies in everything we do, be it tapping rubber, picking coffee or making tea!