Once upon a time before Starbucks began slanging spiced-tea lattes with vegan foam to the masses there was a delicious and humble beverage served all across the subcontinent. This drink was warm, velvety and incredibly fragrant- providing millions with a natural, invigorating morning tonic.
Without further ado:
The Chai Experience.
Tea - Usually black. Steeped with care.
Sugar – Depending on the Chaiwallah [Chai Seller] you’ll get tea that’s either sweet or really sweet. A bit a sugar actually does wonders to carry out the flavors of spices like cardamom, but be weary of the Chaiwallah who gets too liberal with C12H22O11. An unbalanced or overly-sugared cup of Chai is an unfortunate way to start the morning.
Milk – Most of the time fresh, whole milk is used. You may also run across chai prepared with condensed milk.
Spices - A combination of, but not limited to: dried ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and cloves. These spices are what set apart Chai from your basic cup of British-Style boiled leaves.
The pour from cup to cup is supposed to froth up the milk in the tea. To be honest I didn’t notice much of a textural difference between the long-pouring style and chai poured straight from the thermos- although extra point are always awarded for flamboyance. A skilled Chaiwallah can pour steaming liquid from one cup to another with a deft touch up there with brain surgeons, pizzaiolos and brick-layers. Respect the craft.
Upon lifting the glass you’re immediately hit with the sweet scent of cardamom and clove. These wafts not only infiltrate your nostrils, but permeate the epidermis of your soul. The froth hits your lips with a gentle splash, providing a dual sensation of warmth and sucrose. In order to fully appreciate the multiple layers of flavor found inside this 6 ounce glass please practice sips of 1 ounce or less. Swish gently and swallow.
A typical glass of chai provides around 7-12 sips. Take your time. Meet your neighbors. Snack on a vada. Read the Times. Postpone your meetings. Swallow your tea and drink up India.
A cup of street-side Chai will run you up to 8 rupees. That’s 15 cents. Tip the man, please.