TEA, or Chai: First finding mention in the ancient Ramayana, was re-introduced in India by the British, especially commercial plantations, and has now become an integral part of every household. Like most other Indians, my day begins with a cuppa chai, and feels incomplete without all the flavour it brings into my day.
The journey of tea has been interesting: I will not get into the chronology as the internet is full of these details…but the fact of the matter is that tea started finding a daily place in the local households in India as late as the 1950’s….but once it did, what a flavourful journey it has been! And what best could one expect from the land of spices? The Indian tea became spiced and infused with different tastes from across the states.
Over the years, Indian tea has evolved from its original all water brew state, to one with water mixed with milk (in some cases a generous serving of milk) and sugar in British style…however, we have the spiced up versions in the form of masala chai, (tea with a spice mix containing dried ginger powder, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, peppercorns etc.), the rainy-day special adrak chai or ginger tea, cardamom tea, kesar or saffron tea, lemongrass tea, mint tea, and variations of any or all of these spices in one single cup! Then there is the noon chai or salt tea and the spicy Qahwah from Kashmir;the Ayurvedic/herbal versions like holy basil/tulsi tea, mulethi tea, cinnamon & clove tea, etc. There are also some milkless varieties like the red tea from Assam, and the now catching up “green” tea. The Assam and Darjeeling teas have established themselves as brands in their own rights; and have their own individual flavour and taste. Taking a leaf out of the growing popularity of tea, even Starbucks introduced Chai latte across the globe – with a slight hint of cardamom and frothed tea, this beverage works well in the absence of your own cuppa.
Today tea has become an inherent part of the culture in India. At most homes across the country (barring the four great Southern states) tea is probably the first offering for guests: chai-shai. A generous helping of milk, even cream; and premium spices like saffron, cardamom make this offering richer. Tea stalls and the omnipresent chaiwallah dot almost all by-lanes of the country; and what better way to have a mid-highway break, than at a chai dhaba on your road trips! I still look forward to every tea stop on each road trip. I also probably would not have gotten through all the long sleepless nights during college without my umpteen cups of tea. Even today, a hard day at work is all forgotten with a cutting chai. And an adrakwali chai takes away the gloom from a rainy day!
And the best part in the journey has just begun: taking a cue from the many evolving coffee shops and chains across the country, a small, but significant number of tea cafes are emerging. It feels good to have your own chai place, brewing your favourite drink in the world; and also serving some popular Indian eats on the side! Mumbai had its share of early tea places in the form of the quaint Irani cafes serving slightly salty milk tea with their bun-maska, which were always a hit. Now, across the country, people have more choices to explore at the increasing tribe of tea cafes, and even get their first taste of international teas like the Japanese Sencha, flower teas, Oolong tea, etc. here! To name a few, Chaayos (Delhi and very recently Mumbai), Tea Trails, and the likes are giving the tea scene a makeover long overdue. More on these outlets and their reviews in my posts to follow….Till then, keep calm and enjoy a cuppa….