Thursday 30 August 2012

Chai - The Art of Indian Tea

Being British, tea is something that is very close to my heart.   The day kicks off with a nice brew brought to me in bed by Mr Jules, my very own Chai Wallah. (Indian readers will NOT understand this - for tea-making first thing in the morning is a woman's duty!).  I will probably have at least another three cups of Yorkshire Tea or PG tips during the course of the day (gosh I usually have to make this myself). And the day always ends with a delicate mug of de-caff Early Grey - thanks again to my personal Chai Wallah.

When we first got to India, making a really nice cup of British tea proved very difficult due to the non-availability of pasteurised milk.  We were using the UHT stuff out of cartons that tastes a bit funny.  But thankfully we have recently found 'Govinda' brand of pasteurised milk that you can get in Nature's Basket and this has changed our tea drinking life. (Although I believe that Amul pasteurised milk is actually readily available in a lot of places.  We just never found it).

So what about Indian Chai?  I stupidly thought that 'chai' was just a term used for 'tea' in India.  I had seen Chai on the supermarket shelves in the UK and assumed it was a fancy middle class name for tea leaf combinations. And I also saw that you could buy 'Chai Lattes' in Starbucks.  How pretentious I thought (especially for those who have it with half fat soya milk..what's the point?).

Well Chai proper is completely different to and far better than any of those things.  It is an Indian artform in itself. And now I drink it as much as possible when I am in the office.  'Chai' is basically black tea brewed with selected spices, milk and sweetener. Sometimes no spice is used.  Each ingredient adds subtle flavour changes and brewing methods vary widely.  That is why a cup (or actually normally a glass) of chai can vary in flavour from place to place.  One thing is for certain though, Chai is always milky, sweet and delicious!


You see Chai stands everywhere on the street, usually surrounded by groups of people.  Everyone has a favourite Chai brewer.  At the office, no one uses a kettle to make tea - they call the Chai Wallah or the Chai Wallah comes around to take an order.  Everyone in my office loves Chai and always stick their hands up to the cry of "who wants Chai??!!".  Then the Chai Wallah returns within two minutes holding a tray of the piping hot drink for everyone (remember the protagonist in 'Slumdog'?).  The Chai Wallah is always fastidious about putting down a place-mat on the table before giving you your Chai. Then fifteen minutes later, he will be back to collect his glass and payment of 10 rupees.  Usually if you are working in an office there is a special 'Chai Ledger' where the number of Chais will be totted up during the course of the day for employees and then the company will pay the total weekly.  I am sure that most big offices will have their very own Chai Wallah on the staff.

Proper Chai, always served in a glass and always put on a place-mat

The only problem with Chai is that's it's over in three sips!

Here is a recipe for simple Indian Chai (with no spices) if you want to give it a go at home.  Enjoy!

For EACH person you will serve chai to, do the following:
  1. Place 1 teacup of water into a saucepan.
  2. Add 1 heaped teaspoon of loose black tea leaves into the cold water. (Some Indians like to mix Lipton Red Label tea and Lipton Green Label tea. The mixture does provide a nice blend of flavour.)
  3. Bring the water to a boil, and add in 1 teaspoon of sugar, and boil for 1 minute.
  4. Add in one teacup of milk, and heat until boiling. Continue to boil for another 30 seconds, stirring so it doesn't boil over.
  5. Strain and serve.


  1. Thanks for sharing your information. Its very effective and interesting.
    Indian tea

  2. I like your writing altough you seem prejudiced. I am an Indian and I DID understand what you meant! My father makes the breakfast and tea almost everyday. Not only that, I've seen many of the men around me getting into cooking as well. I work in the social sector too so I've seen this not just in the well to do families. Anyway, have fun writing!

    1. Hands up - that was a sweeping comment but I hadn't been here long at that point. I met a lot of construction workers recently who have to fend for themselves whilst their wives stay at home in the rural villages. A lot of them survive on Dhal on rice and chai as it's the easiest thing to cook (but they still told me they missed their wives' cooking :) Thanks for visiting Prachi!



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