Apart from China, India produces and drinks more tea than any other country on the planet. Some of the most famous teas to come from India include Assam and Darjeeling. In fact, tea has been officially declared the “State Drink” of Assam. The people of India love tea so much that a staggering 70% of the tea produced in the country is consumed within India itself.
Tea in India has a long history, dating back to 750-500 BC, when the consumption of tea in India was first clearly documented. Tea also has connotations with traditional systems of medicine, included in the practice of Ayurveda, which has a long-standing tradition of herbal teas. As we all know, Indians love herbs and spices and the health benefits that come with them, such as cardamom, pepper, liquorice and mint. Tea is also mixed with these traditional herbs to provide all the benefits in one steaming cup.
Chai has become synonymous with Indian beverages. This variety is sweet and milky and helps to disguise the sometimes bitter taste of the medicinal additives, whilst flavours from ginger add a pleasant tang and aroma, along with many health benefits. The milk in a chai tea is almost always whole milk and it is usually sweetened with a type of unrefined, local cane sugar called jaggery.
In India, chai is made both at home and outside. Most commonly, it can be found at the many ubiquitous tea stalls dotted around almost every street in India. In particular, it is found in the main cities such as Delhi, where ‘chai wallahs’ serve the thirsty public with this delicious drink. Chai is also used in virtually every household as a welcome drink to guests arriving at their home. In areas such as Delhi, an average of four cups of chai are consumed per customer per day. The most popular time of day for a chai is around 4pm, where locals will gather with a savoury snack such as a samosa or pakora.
In recent times, chai has spread across the west. In the US, for example, the name ‘masala chai’ has shifted to ‘chai’, or sometimes even ‘chai tea’. This term is wrong, however, as ‘chai tea’ would essentially be translated as ‘tea tea’! While some cafes do not do the tea justice, producing poor imitations made with syrup concentrates (particularly popular in coffeehouses), many tea houses in the UK and US have started producing very high quality, loose-leaf masala chai, as the demand for top-notch tea rises. However, the spice blend is very rarely made from scratch, instead using a bought-in blend made with dried spices.
If you want to sample an authentic cup of chai as it should be, why not head to one of London’s top Indian brasseries? Here, chai is lovingly made from scratch to an authentic Indian recipe and is served alongside homemade snacks. You could even treat yourself to a thali and wash it down with a delicious cup of steaming hot chai. It could become your very own 4 o’clock treat.