Chai tea is the Indian staple, even more so than rice or anything else I can think of. No train journey without chai wallahs cruising up and down the compartments to sell hot, sweet, steamy chai from their big containers, no wait (however short) at a bus stop without a cup of chai, no restaurant or small road side stall without chai bubbling on the fire. Without chai, the day clearly cannot start, without chai, the day cannot be called a day.
After mother’s milk, chai becomes the daily source of comfort. One might be able to keep going without that masala dosai for breakfast, without parata, roti or other delicacies, but not without a glass of chai.
So how to prepare the perfect glass of chai? There are as many opinions as people you ask, mind-boggling number of different chai variations – it’s a bit like ordering “coffee” in Vienna, you’re lucky if the waiter doesn’t throw you out.
However, generally and in theory people vaguely agree that chai contains some (or all) of the following: a strong tea base, normally black tea such as Assam (any other tea would probably be completely overpowered by all the spices to be added later…), cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, fennel seeds, cloves, and peppercorn. Sometimes nutmeg or liquorice are added, too.
But it doesn’t stop here – so far we’ve just looked at the tea itself, but then there are various options of sweetening and adding milk to it, with some people even using condensed milk to double up as both. Unlike in the UK, the milk is not to be added later, but forms an integral part of boiling the tea and has in fact to be boiled before adding to the hot tea. Letting it drip down through the filter as shown in the picture adds the nice, creamy and foamy texture that makes the first sip of chai so special and indescribable!
If you feel like giving it a go, it’s highly rewarding and particularly in winter the perfect drink to add warmth and comfort to a nice reading session on the sofa
Here are some ideas: