No, Indians do not drink tea.
We mostly drink chai – tea that’s simmered in sweetened milk. When spiked with spices of all sorts it transforms into the uber-fragrant and rich masala chai or, what the world calls, masala tea.
Chai is to Indians what butter is to French, Guinness is to Brits, and ramen is to China – a staple. It’s what we begin our mornings with and also what we call it a day with. Chai is there with us throughout the day – in between meetings, meals, and musings. Toss in a wad of spices, and it’s like Christmas in a cup, for every day of the year.
Of course, masala chai is so much more than just a part of our routines. It nourishes and gives a sense of well-being. On good days and bad, on rainy ones and nippy evenings, you can comfortably turn to a cup of masala tea, freshly made and piping hot, to home you into feeling warm, comforted and at one with yourself. Maybe it’s the spices or the tea or a mix of both, but there is something incredibly divine about chai, especially masala chai, for, it stirs you emotionally, rouses your senses, and makes you happy, too.
Chai is also our social catalyst and brings people together. If there is one thing we enjoy more than drinking our chai it is sharing that cup with our near and dear ones. Chai, like with most things in life, is best enjoyed in the company of family and friends, on tables spilling with good food and conversations. In almost every Indian home, occasions, festivals, and gatherings – everything happens around and over cups of tea.
Annals of making chai
Many people seek an easy formula for making Indian-style tea. After all, today you can get ready-to-drink chai and masala tea in tetra packs and ready-to-brew decoctions, both available at hand’s reach. So, you can’t be blamed for wanting chai making too be just as breezy.
But the truth is that while chai is possible in tetra packs and tea bags, it is never really desirable. A good cup of chai needs time. It needs simmering. The water with tea, milk, and spices must be put to a rolling boil for the flavours to marry. Strength and creamy texture are outcomes of simmering. And while some prefer adding milk to the tea at the time of consumption, what they end up consuming is in fact black tea flavoured with milk, not chai.
For an authentic cup of chai, you need a robust Assam CTC tea. Milk with some fat content is desirable, but you can make chai with just about any kind of milk. Use of fresh spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, clove, fennel, and ginger is the convention. But a good strong tea, like an Assam CTC, takes to just about any kind of spice – fresh or dry. Apart from this, you only need some patience and an eye for colour – a chai should be toffee-like in appearance, not pale, not milky and not too brown.
It’s always a good time for chai
Winter’s here, and the solstice is around the corner, which means the days are about to turn a lot colder. Chances are you’ll be reaching for anything that’ll keep you feeling warm and cosy. And while cardigans and pullovers will help, a chai will do more than just keep you warm – it’ll nourish you. Unlike coffee, the caffeine in chai will pep you up just enough to keep you going throughout the day without overwhelming your senses. Also, the spices in your masala tea will help keep the sniffles away.
No matter the season, tea manages to compensate for the misgivings of any weather. Too cold? Tea will keep you warm. Too hot? It’ll still nourish without adding to the heat. And for those in-between seasons, tea, especially masala tea will come through to help you feel relaxed and adequately nourished.