Life in India’s small towns nearly comes to a stop during tea time. It is also an essential part of India’s legendary hospitality to offer a cup of tea to a guest or customer. While hanging out with my tailor friend, Atul, he always served me tea. He never would ask. He got on his mobile phone and before I knew it, the chai wallah appeared with a small kettle filled with hot, sweet, milky tea. Atul had to sign a chit for the tea and pay at the end of each day. If it was too late in the day and the chai wallah had gone home, Atul apologized profusely and offered me a soft drink instead. Atul admitted to me that he drinks between 10 and 20 of these small cups a day.
Not too long ago, potters made small, unglazed clay cups used exclusively for the consumption of tea. After finishing the tea, the drinker threw the cup on the ground. Unfortunately, today, small plastic cups have replaced the clay ones. You can see the used cups on the floor behind the chai wallah.
When I was walking around town between 4 and 5PM just about every one was drinking tea.
Tea is indigenous to north-east India though it was under British rule that the cultivation of tea began in the 1830’s and flourished. Today, India’s method of preparation differs greatly from the steeped tea in a pot, popular in the U. K.
From what I’ve observed, all the ingredients are combined in a pot and boiled. The liquid is mostly milk with a lot of added sugar. Masala chai is a preparation made with additional spices. Each person has their own recipe and preference. In India, the word chai actually means tea in Hindi. If you know this, when you read or hear someone say chai tea as they do in the west, it sounds odd because they are actually saying, tea tea!
.As an American, I am a devoted coffee drinker though I do enjoy a good cuppa, especially when served with the hospitality and congeniality of a good friend like Atul.