Chai / Masala Chai - The story of how it became Indians lifeline.
Ancient Ayurvedic journals talked about tea as an herb grown in North West State of Assam. Tea became a recreational beverage because of the Britishers in 1830s. Intimated by China gaining monopoly of the Tea market, tea was planted in India which resulted in great yield hence great exports. However, what was most interesting was that India did not consume it at all I guess merely for the fact that we never knew how to make a proper chai!!!
They strategized and introduced something called “tea break” in mills, mines, factories etc and set up independent “chaiwallah” to make and serve tea. As a result, Chai became a very sort after and a desirable beverage. In fact, it became an integral part of our day to day living, many households started enjoying chai on par with the coffee.
Black tea became a household name and people started experimenting by adding various aromatic herbs like fennel, green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, nutmeg, ginger root, etc., hence was the birth of “Masala Chai” – Masala means amalgamation of various spices. The regional growth of those aromatics had a major influence in terms of the flavors in chai. A very common and most loved combination is that of “adrak and ilaichi chai” (fresh ginger and green cardamom). The magic was in the hands of the maker, pounding the fresh ginger with the skin and with green cardamom, rapid boiling with the tea leaves followed by slow brewing adding sugar or jaggery in the process and finishing by adding boiled hot milk (cows) bringing it to one final boil converts the humble tea to tea extraordinaire!
Many of my fellow country mates might frown with the way I explained the chai making process. There are many ways to make it some add one part of water buffalo milk with two to four parts of water and heating the liquid to near or full boiling and finishing with condensed milk!! The conclusion is that there is no set recipe for making a chai.
The most nostalgic chai experience that every Indian can vouch for is during train journey. Chai flows throughout from the rail pantry, it gets served in a paper cup and usually not very strong however the best is when the train stops in different stations. The constant cooing of chai vendors saying “chai, garma garam chai, chai leylo chai” …….is unmissable. The chai shops would be tiny with brass pots full of hot water and a saucepan full of boiling chai is simply irresistible. The best part is when it is finished off with condensed milk and served in an earthen cup…………. is a wonderful experience.
My humble chai mix represents a balanced selection of aromatics, the best Indian tea leaves from Assam and a very simple instruction as to how you can brew a great chai at your own home.