"Chai peeni hai?"
This phrase is as familiar as it is inescapable if you live in an Indian household. Tea is an indispensable part of being an Indian. Tea is not just a beverage in India; tea is an emotion.
In all our memories rooted in our inherent Indianness, 'chai' has been an intrinsic part of them all. Be it those rainy evenings stuck inside the house having endless cups of masala chai with pakoras, or lazing on a hot summer afternoon when the refreshing lemon tea would come to our rescue. Whether it was skipping classes in college to sit at the roadside tapri clutching a kadak kulhad of chai and talking about politics or the shrill call of the chaiwalla on trains waking you up at the crack of dawn, this sweet concoction has always had a permanent spot in the lives of Indians. Girls would be judged on their tea-making skills by in-laws, and although times have now changed, the way you make your tea can either win someone's heart or invite their ire. You cannot visit an Indian household without being asked for a cup of tea, the only correct answer for which is whether or not you take it with milk and sugar.
India is a land of chai and chaiwallas, and today, on National Chai Day, which celebrates the country's beloved beverage, we delve deeper into our cups and bring to you some of the diverse varieties of tea consumed across the nation.
With a history that spans over 5,000 years, chai has a rich and storied past that harkens back to its medicinal roots. Today, it has blossomed into a beloved beverage which is consumed all across the world. National Chai Day, established in 2018 by Somrus, a company specializing in chai spices and blends, is a testament to its enduring popularity and myriad benefits.
Chai culture in India shares its roots with British colonization. During the era of the British East India Company, tea from Assam became a major commodity. As a result, tea consumption in India soared. Indians put their unique twist on the British preparation of tea—black tea with milk and sugar—by adding an array of spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.
The health benefits of chai are abundant, making it more than just a delightful beverage. Its ingredients hold remarkable therapeutic properties. Black pepper and ginger in chai aid digestion, while cloves soothe abdominal pain. Cardamom contributes to mood regulation, and cinnamon promotes heart and lung health.
India, with its diversity and multicultural preferences, couldn't have gone with just a single variety of tea. As varied as its culture, the preparation of tea also follows the same rules. Here are some of the popular ways India consumes its chai.
Butter tea, known as Gur Gur Chai, enjoys popularity in Ladakh and Sikkim. Traditionally crafted from tea leaves, yak milk butter, water, and salt, this hearty brew is cherished by Himalayan nomads who consume over 30 cups daily. It is also made with cow butter and served in small cups that leave you craving more.
Hailing from the picturesque valleys of Kashmir, Kahwa is an exotic chai bursting with rich flavours. Preparing this concoction is surprisingly simple—just boil water and add cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, dried rose petals, and green tea leaves for the desired strength. Top it off with honey and almond slivers for a truly indulgent experience. Kahwa is the perfect companion on a chilly winter day.
India's status as the world's leading tea exporter traces back to its colonial history. Yet, the country's diverse culinary traditions birthed masala chai—a beloved concoction of black tea simmered with milk, sugar, and an array of fragrant spices like ginger, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon. Each Indian household boasts its exclusive masala chai recipe.
Noon Chai, also known as Sheer Chai, stands out with its distinct pink hue. Brewing tea leaves with cardamom and a pinch of baking soda results in this vibrant colour. It's usually served with milk and a touch of salt, and you can elevate the experience by adding almonds, pistachios, and a hint of cinnamon. Noon Chai is a cherished gem among Indian teas.
Lebu Cha, or spiced lemon tea, is Bengal's answer to flavorful street-style chai. This zesty infusion of black tea combines the essence of lemon with a unique blend of spices curated by each street vendor. A final squeeze of lemon adds a tangy kick to this delightful chai. It's reminiscent of classic lemon tea but with a distinct desi twist, making it a must-try when in the city of joy.
Himachal Pradesh's Kangra region reigns as North India's tea capital. The lush, green gardens of Palampur offer a haven for tea enthusiasts. Kangra chai, both green and black, has been cultivated here since the mid-19th century. It boasts a fresh, vegetal aroma and a subtle pungent taste, making it a tea lover's dream.