Hot chai, hot chai?

Caption: A tea shop (chai wallah) on S.P. Mukherjee Road. Kolkata, India, April 2014.

Caption: A tea shop (chai wallah) on S.P. Mukherjee Road. Kolkata, India, April 2014.

“Masala chai” (/tʃaɪ/; Hindi: मसाला चाय) is flavored tea beverage, which originated in India during the British-Raj era and has gained worldwide popularity. It is made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs. This much-loved tea is usually drunk at breakfast and also throughout the day.

Masala chai has four basic components: 1) tea base (usually strong black tea like Assam), 2) a mixture of spices (green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn), 3) milk (a mixture of ½ milk and water) and 4) sugar.

On the street in India, you can find tea shops (or locally known as “chai wallah”) almost everywhere, mostly near office buildings, bus stops, markets etc. It is the place where people stop for a quick break or meet their friends. The price for a cup of chai depends on the size of the tea cups, starting from 5 rupee.

Caption: People enjoying chai with their friends at a roadside tea shop in the old town. Varanasi, India, July 2013.

Caption: People enjoying chai with their friends at a roadside tea shop in the old town. Varanasi, India, July 2013.

In many cities, chai is served in unglazed clay tea cups (“kulhar”), which enhances the tea’s fragrance and taste with “earthy aroma”. Since the terracotta cups are hardly reused, so it is more hygienic than plastic cups.

Small clay teacups (kulhars), which are widely used to serve hot beverages in India. Kolkata, India, April 2014.

Small clay teacups (kulhars), which are widely used to serve hot beverages in India. Kolkata, India, April 2014.

Moreover, while you are enjoying your time outdoor, for example, in the park, on the beach, you can also buy hot chai from tea vendors, who walk around carrying a big flask of tea and shouting “garam chai, garam chai” (hot tea, hot tea).

A tea vendor selling hot chai on the beach at Girgaum Chowpatty. Mumbai, India, July 2012.

A tea vendor selling hot chai on the beach at Girgaum Chowpatty. Mumbai, India, July 2012.

“Chai” is an integral part of Indian culture and the daily life of Indian people. It is not only a beverage that kick-starts the day and keeps many people awake during the day, but chai also brings family and friends together. If you have a chance to go to India, I highly recommend that you make a stop at a tea wallah on the street and have a cup of freshly-made hot chai. It is a good way to escape from the buzz on the street and provide a good opportunity to strike up a conversation with local people, who are more than willing to invite you for another cup of chai with them.

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