Chai, or as the world knows it- tea, is an Indian tradition that has survived the test of time. Indians revere their tea and tea-drinking ceremonies associated with it are part of every Indian’s life. Tea is also a big cash crop in India and millions of workers, particularly women are employed in the tea industry.
Chai stalls are to be found in every street corner. The most popular version of tea in India is the cutting chai or milk tea, which is made with tea leaves boiled with milk. It is not uncommon to add ginger to this. Another favourite is Masala Chai, made like milk tea but spices like cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, fennel or star anise are added to it. The spices vary from region to region depending on the availability of ingredients. In Kashmir, tea is often made with saffron. But all Indian chai has one thing in common- cheeni (sugar)! Only in rare cases will someone ask for tea without sugar- so watch out if you’re not a fan of sweetened tea.
Tea is also served in a variety of ways ranging from a cup and saucer, to a steel cup, a cutting chai glass, to a clay pot!
Just drinking tea is not enough though. Chai must always be accompanied by either biscuits, or samosas, or some fried snacks! Tea had on its own would be over in 5 minutes, but with the snacks, the whole ritual takes a good 15-20 minutes, providing enough room for gup shup (chit chat). And life without gup shup is as bland as tea without cheeni!