Taste India with a Cup of Chai
The most popular drink, tea has and continues to play an important role in almost all world cultures and customs…..
Tea is one of the most widely-consumed beverages in the world, second only to water. Tea’s world consumption easily equals all other manufactured drinks in the world “including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol” put together.
Needless to say Tea is the most prominent drink of India, which is the world’s largest producer, exporter and consumer of tea. “Chai” generic word for Tea in India and in much of the world, but for many English speakers, “chai” is always construed as “Masala Chai” or “Spiced Tea”. Characteristically Chai, is a full bodied tea boiled with water and milk together while the sugar can be added while boiling the tea or after. Masala Chai is brewed with different combinations of warm spices like peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and ginger. There is no standard recipe for making Masala Chai and you can use different spices according to taste.
In short Chai is to Indians what a cup of black coffee with cream and sugar is to the rest of the world!
The Tea Plant (Camellia Sinensis)
Tea is an evergreen plant of the Camellia family. It has smooth, shiny pointed leaves which looks similar to the privet hedge leaf found in British gardens. The leaves and leaf buds of the Camellia Sinensis are used to produce tea.
Camellia sinensis is indigenous to China and parts of India. The wild tea plant can develop into a tree 30 metres high. Today, under cultivation, the tea plant is kept to a height of approximately one metre for easy plucking purposes.
To produce tea on a commercial scale, saplings are planted close to each other and repeatedly pruned or clipped to induct a luxuriant leaf- growth sideways as well as to avoid blossoming. The saplings take three to seven years to mature into bushes and if well- cultivated, yield leaf prolifically for as long as a century. The height of tea bushes is rarely allowed to exceed 100 cm and their number per hectare ranges between 4,000 to 15,000. A hectare can yield anywhere between 800 to 4,000 kgs annually. The Indian average yield per hectare in 1998 was 1996 kgs. To make one kg of tea requires 4.5 kgs of tender green leaves.
There are more than 1,500 teas to choose from more than 25 different tea producing countries around the world but the main producers are India, China, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Indonesia. It is cultivated as a plantation crop, likes acidic soil and a warm climate with at least 50 inches of rain per annum.
Types of Tea
Each tea in this world must belong one of the families Black or Green or Oolong variety of tea.
Black tea is a variety of tea that is more oxidized than the green and oolong varieties. Black tea undergoes a fermentation process as part of production. It is generally stronger in flavor and contains more caffeine than the less oxidized teas. Black tea can retain it’s flavor for several years.
Green tea is a “true” tea, meaning it is made solely with the leaves of Camellia sinensis, that has undergone minimal oxidation during processing.. Green teas are un-fermented.
Green tea usually loses its flavor within a year unlike black tea.
These teas are half way between green and black teas. It ranges from 10% to 70% oxidation. They undergo a short fermentation process and so are often known as semi-fermented or semi- oxidized teas. Oolong has a taste more akin to green tea than to black tea: it lacks the rosy, sweet aroma of black tea but it likewise does not have the stridently grassy vegetal notes that typify green tea.
White tea is tea manufactured by a process that uses relatively low heat and no rolling.The key is to get the fresh leaves to mature properly with minimal oxidation.White tea usually contains buds and young tea leaves, which have been found to contain lower levels of caffeine than older leaves, suggesting that the caffeine content of some white teas may be slightly lower than that of green teas.
Varieties of Indian Tea
In India, teas are defined by the regions in which they are grown. The most famous teas in India are the Darjeeling Tea, Assam Tea and Nilgiri Tea.
Darjeeling at 6,000 feet above sea level, boasts at least 68 tea gardens. This tea is the best in the world due to its perfect growing conditions: cool, moist climate, high altitude, sufficient rainfall, well drained sloping landscape, and soil rich in minerals.. This tea has a delicate and superior flavor. It is called the rejuvenating tea or the spa tea because of its fine taste.
Assam has the indigenous tea plants of India. A full flavor, very satisfying tea. Assam teas are strong, well rounded and malty with rich aroma and flavor. Usually served with milk and sugar.
Nilgiri is similar to Ceylon teas grown in nearby Sri Lanka. A full bodied tea with an excellent fragrance and flavor
Chai is a social phenomenon of a kind in India . It pervades every corner of our society. Whatever the season, wherever the place, it’s Chai, Chai and more Chai!
Be it a rural setting or a metropolis, rich or poor, Chai is there for you, easily available, affordable, and what’s more it’s a must in every family by way of tradition! Chai appears to be an important equalizer. Chai is not just another beverage or drink in India. A variety of snacks are made just to go with this delicate drink. An average Indian has four chai breaks in a day that’s how much we love our Chai!
There is no end to the diversity of recipes for making your own chai. Chai recipes are like Italian minestrone soup – it’s always good but everyone’s recipe is different. Brewing chai is fun and allows you to experiment until you get it ‘just right’ for your personal taste. Here are some Chai recipes to get you started-
Plain Chai (makes 2 cups)
Water 1½ cups
Dried tea leaves (or tea powder) 2 tsp.
Whole milk 1/2 cup.
Sugar as per taste.
– Put 1-1/2 cups water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the milk and sugar and bring to a simmer. You can avoid adding the sugar and add it in the end while serving.
– Throw in the tea leaves. The tea mixture will rise and may spill over the top, so be aware and remove from the heat or turn off the heat(stove).
– Let it sit for 2 minutes.
– Strain the tea into two cups and serve immediately. Sip and enjoy!
If your a fan of masala chai and like making it often, it’s handy to either prepare the masala mixture at home in advance so you just need to add it to your chai or you can even buy a ready made tea masala powder. Here’s a recipe for Chai masala or you can make an instant cup of masala chai using the recipe below. You can alter the quantities and add or leave out any ingredients according to your taste.
Ingredients (makes one small jar)
1 cup dried ginger roots
1/2 cup green cardamom pods (elachi)
1 tbsp peppercorns
6-7 2″ cinnamon sticks
Dry all the ingredients in a low temp oven for an hour or until dry. Grind all the ingredients finely. Sieve it and grind again.
Store in a glass airtight jar.
To get the best flavor add the Tea Masala while you boil water to make tea. For 2 cups of tea add 1/4 tsp of Tea Masala.
Masala Chai (Serves 4)
This warming beverage is easy to prepare by steeping spices in hot water and milk before adding black tea.
4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar or according to taste
2 tablespoons Black tea
– In a mortar, crush the cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon.
– Transfer the crushed spices to a small saucepan, add the water, ginger and pepper and bring to a boil.
– Add the milk and sugar to the pan and let it boil. Remove from the heat and add the tea. Or lowering the heat add the tea.
– Cover and let steep for 3 minutes.
– Strain it into a warmed teapot or directly into teacups.
Kashmiri Chai is also known as Kahwa. The Powdered almonds make this chai a little bit nutty, and you can really taste the cinnamon and cardamom as well. If you don’t have real saffron (it’s very expensive) you can always leave that out.
1 tsp loose tea
4 cardamom pods, bruised
1 small cinnamon stick, broken up
Saffron threads, a pinch
4 cups water
2 tbs finely powdered almonds
Honey, to taste
Mix everything except honey and almonds in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let tea steep for 5 minutes. Put a teaspoon of almonds in the bottom of each cup, and pour hot tea over.
Sweeten with honey to taste.