Partial to a nice cup of tea? Well, nobody does this particular brand of beverage quite like India. Breathing in the aroma of a delicious, steaming, hot cup of masala chai invokes all the exoticism and allure of the continent with an array of mouth-watering spices designed to simultaneously warm and uplift the senses.
Tracing back the origin of the word ‘chai’, it appears to have evolved from the Persian ‘chay’ or Chinese ‘cha’. Although in India, chai is the Hindi word that refers to tea, it is generally understood in the West that if a drink is described in this way, it will be a spicy, aromatic, milky concoction.
What is Masala Chai?
Essentially, masala chai is a tea flavoured with mixed spices. The different regions of India have their own variations to the recipe but the foundation is always a black tea brew and often involves green cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and even black peppercorns, to give the drink that little bit of extra heat that hits the back of your throat. In fact, even within the different states, individual Indian homes might use their own combination of spices for their own particular version of the brew, resulting in a wide range of subtly different tastes adaptable to suit all preferences.
The black tea base is usually a strong tea such as Assam – the ideal, caffeinated antidote to perk up a lethargic day. It takes a little time for the tea leaves to fully release their striking flavour before the spices are added.
How do you take yours?
The traditional milk of choice for masala chai comes from the buffalo, although those with a sweet tooth might fancy their cuppa to be more of a dessert and prefer to use a dollop of condensed milk. Others prefer the strong black solution and will take their chai straight up and dairy free. Sugar can be added according to taste, with some recipes calling for several tablespoons to be added to the pot. Indian sugars of choice include palm, coconut, brown sugar, jaggery or sugar syrup.
The Chai-wallah Technique
The famous chai-wallahs can be found throughout India, serving their teas at roadsides and ensuring people get their chai fix throughout the day. Although chai masala spices can be found pre-mixed, not only in India but throughout Asia and the Western world, a good chai-wallah will have their own special recipe and brew their tea from scratch. The traditional method of preparation would involve boiling the tea leaves, water, milk and spices long with the sugar or sugar substitute before sieving out the residue, separating the drink from the solid leftovers.
The King of Teas
The distinctive chai flavouring has spread in popularity around the world and it is now possible to find chai-spiced cakes, biscuits, iced beverages and even ice-cream all over the globe. Yet it all stems back to masala chai, the king of teas.
Enjoy a nice cup of tea as a post-dinner pick-me-up at one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants or perhaps enjoy the flavours in an exotic, Indian-themed cocktail or dessert. However, consume with this warning: once you try chai, you’ll be hooked.