So you have arrived in India. You had heard a lot about the Indian chai. Perhaps even tried the lousy Chai Latte in foreign lands coming out of a supermarket shelf in a tea bag. In India of course it’s everywhere – roadside stalls, around the corner from your hostel, in your hostel, the trains, and so on. You’ve even gone ahead and sipped on a few cups here and there. You’ve now tasted the real chai. But have you experienced it yet?
Chai is a Culture
Most Indians are early risers. It’s in fact an Asian thing – to wake up early. In my understanding, by western standards, around 8 am is early. But that’s somewhat late for Asian standards. Early is before the sun rises – around 5 am, or 6.
So rise and shine early. Then begin your day with sipping on freshly brewed chai, perhaps with a snack or two, whilst digesting the news. Share this moment with your family, partner or in the case of solo travellers – your travel buddies and fellow hostel guests. Do this in your hostel if you seek a laid-back morning, else step out into the streets and find your favourite tea stall. Now enjoy your chai while chatting-up with your fellow patrons, or just people watching…or cow watching.
You can as well do exactly the same toward the late afternoon. Once you’ve been through the day and finished most tasks at hand, just before calling it a day, before settling down, take a chai break.
Chai, when brewed with certain spices and herbs, becomes doubly delicious, healthier, and then earns the title of Masala Chai.
Although many businesses use ready-to-use masala chai mixes, we take a more authentic approach by using the freshest possible ingredients. The ginger we use, for example, is bought from the local market, whereas the basil is picked right out of our garden immediately before brewing your chai.
Naturally chai indulgence is more enjoyable during winters. Monsoons are another time to best enjoy your chai. When the heavens are pouring down and life comes to a standstill – just take your impromptu break, settle-in, and sip on your cuppa. Savour the moment. If the situation offers liberty and your appetite calls out your name, arrange for your chai time snack – preferably Samosas and Longlata or Pakoras and Jalebi.
Not so hungry? Bhel-puri is a popular light street snack, and a big thing in Mumbai. Although it can still be found on Indian trains quite commonly, the street version of the snack seems to be losing its popularity in many parts of the country. Apart from that, if packaged food doesn’t turn you off, then you ought to know that quite a few generations of Indians grew up eating Parle-G biscuits along with their chais. Try Haldiram’s Bhujia to spice things up a bit. Both of these are available in convenience stores and on supermarket shelves across the country.
One Last Tip
Your chai will probably taste best out of a clay cup. Moreover, those things are eco-friendly, healthy and much more hygienic as compared to glasses that many tea stalls serve in. They are use-and-throw, just like plastic and paper cups, minus the pollution. Also no reuse means no washing in dirty water.
So next time you have a choice, order your chai at a stall that serves in clay cups. On a larger scale you’ll be helping the environment. At the very least you will help sustain the artisans’ dying business.
At ITH Bistro, we serve free freshly brewed Masala Chai in clay cups every morning. Cuppas ordered from the menu are served in hygienic ceramic cups. Do drop by!