Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chaai.. chaai...

Tea (or Chai as it is known in India) is probably the most popular drink in the world. I always remember tea as a beverage that was meant to be drunk only during the evening hours (tea time as it is known at home). Somehow, tea was never prepared during other times, unless a guest preferred tea to coffee. Its preparation however was something weird (as I understood it later).

The process of making tea at home involved making 'tea decoction' - as if it was something like coffee! Boil water, then add tea powder (never used tea leaves at home, only tea dust), boil for some more time. Then filter it and add milk, sugar and serve. This is the way it has always prepared at home.

I always loved the tea-shop teas, which were thick by constant boiling of tea with milk. The thick tea with the masalas (cardamom and ginger) gave the liquid a whole new dimension making it more exotic and preferred.

However, it turns out that there is a lot of debate regarding the issue of making tea. This has been beautifully chronicled by George Orwell in the Evening Standard titled 'A Nice Cup of Tea' as early as 1946. In this, Orwell lists the method of making a perfect cup of tea, with specific do's and don'ts. The British, who popularised the custom of drinking tea in the West made it fashionable and an exercise of the upper class. Moreover, the subtleties of making tea, the drinking and the serving made it all the more exclusive during the Raj. Some of this has started again in India with increasing affluences and people seeking for something new to do. Tea sipping, tea tasting expeditions and tea-tourism are on the rise. There seems to be a market for Darjeeling teas that fetch $500/lb at auctions and a new breed of tea-tasters and experts similar to wine tasters.

However, there is nothing to beat the experiences of having a hot cup of chai with pakodas sitting on the veranda and reading the newspaper on a lazy Sunday; or standing under the tin sheet of a tea shop, drinking piping hot tea and eating buns.

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