Chai is love, an emotion. It is a never-ending romance between Indian hearts and a cup of simply brewed tea. So, it’s not just a cup of drink.Black tea along with milk and sugar is not only an energy drink or beverage but a source of happiness. Everyone has their own story with tea.
A morning full of cool winter breeze, wrapped with fog, the sun is under the blanket yet. Winter makes him very lazy like me. There is no rush on the main road. Few vehicles are standing in the main stand. Chai Wallahs are putting the coals and cow dung cakes into their mud stove. Placing his kettle and lining the kulhars/bhars (mud cup of chai) to prepare sweet and aromatic chai for people. A group of peoples sat near the fireplace in a circle, trying to overcome the shiver of winter. Many are coming towards the tea stall after their morning walk.
Tea has a magical effect. After a long morning walk, it instantly refreshes and smoothes the soul and relaxes mental and physical health as well. But, the reason behind their coming is not only tea. Chit-chat with a cup of tea, especially for Bengalis, is a part of their daily routine and habits, where everyone thinks themselves as an expert.
Ironically, in Bengali, we say, “chayer cup a tufan tole”. They are eagerly waiting for a chance to put their words about the news of last night. Everything, from neighbors’ gossip to intense political discussions happens over a cup of tea. The shopkeeper distributes the cups of tea, with a smile. Various biscuits, cakes, cigarettes, and bidi all these are also sold along with chai. For some people, a cigarette is a perfect pair with tea. This chit-chat with tea seems to be an energy drink for the whole day.
The story of chai not only stays within the road shacks but also has a
fascinating story within our four walls as well. Teatime brings the people of the entire house on a single table, relaxes the souls, and keeps reviving the bond of hearts.
An evening after a hectic schedule, suddenly it’s started to drizzle. The rhythm of raindrops refreshes our soul. Trees are swaying their heads with the tune of the cold breeze. The evening is fabulous but something is still missing.
In a minute, Maa brings a cup of tea. Vapour comes out with an exciting aroma. Petrichor with the first sip of hot chai makes it livelier. Chai with pakora makes the adda of that evening a special one.
The story of tea for the Indian children in their houses is sadistic. Love for tea goes back to childhood. As a child, I was always discriminated against in the field of chai distribution at my house. I was never allowed to take a sip. A sudden whiff of aroma lifted me and tempted me to run in the kitchen. I used to see my dad, having pure milk tea into a beautiful cup with some yummy cookies. Eventually, after a few years, I started to pamper my mom to make me some in a smaller quantity. And many times, I used to drop my biscuits (only two are allotted for dropping) into my dad’s cup and tried to feel the taste of tea through the biscuits.
In the real scenario, the actual journey with tea in my life has started at that time. In my college life, chai becomes a constant factor. From the celebration of happiness to overcoming the sadness or boringness or getting energy on the last night of the exam, we prefer a cup of tea. And the daily dose of chai is fixed.
A fixed stall was there for a special tea. Tea stalls have a different story, which makes many memories for the whole life. We shared a bond with the chai-wallahs of our favorite tea stall. Many friendships have been started from a tea point. It also can be a place to gather knowledge about the local people, their culture, lifestyle, occupation, and problems as well. It’s a part of the gossip culture. Some people gossip with the stories of different households in their locality. Gossip on some trivial matters is like a storm in a teacup.
Generally in Indian households, offering a cup of tea to guests is a token of hospitality. It is an old tradition of sharing love and respect. Hence, chai is not only a drink. It has been included in our culture since the 19th century. During the early 19th century, it was used as simple medicines, for a healing concoction made by brewing herbs and spices, much like the traditional Kada.
The History of Tea:
Before the 19th century, there was a tale related to the discovery of tea. Tea is believed to have been first discovered by mistake 5000 years ago when the Emperor Shennong of ancient China found tea leaves in his pot of boiling water, known for his scientific curiosity, he proceeded to taste the drink and loved it. Before long, tea became a staple of Chinese culture.
Apart from this, there is another history of the discovery of tea. Tea is a shrub that was discovered by the British in Assam in 1823. Talking of Assam, the north-eastern state of India has a long historical connection with tea. Since at least the 12th century, leaves of tea shrubs that grew wild were used as medicine by the Singhpo tribe in Assam. The Singhpo tribe is India’s first tea drinker. It was the Singhpo’s chief, Bisa Gam, who introduced the tea to Englishman Robert Bruce and his brother Charles in 1823. Indian tea production grew significantly under the British who employed native people to work in fields.
The chai with milk is discovered by travelers and traders from Gujarat,
Maharashtra and West Bengal, easy access to good quality milk. Over time, an exchange of customs and cultural ideas through the migration and traveling led to a growling thirst for tea among all classes and areas.
Dutch travelers, Jan Huygen Van Linschoten who visited India 1538 AD, corroborated with this fact in his account of his visit to India. He wrote: “Indians ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic and oil and boiled the leaves to make a brew.“
Indian Tea Association began an earnest effort to popularise tea India in the early 1900s. For promotional campaigns, they set up tea stalls in the towns and cities, the companies started to give Tea Breaks to their workers, even in Railway stations they opened tea stalls and many people started to work as a hawker in the station as well as the bus stop.
“Garam Chai” is the most common call of chai wallahs. Thus, the history of chai is very fascinating and legendary. It’s been a long journey for tea in India. The discovery of this drink has a tremendous impact on India’s economy. The majority of the tea producing countries are located on the continent of Asia where India becomes 2nd largest producer after China. The majority of tea production in India happens in Assam and West Bengal. Many people depended on this occupation for their livelihood. From tea plantations to a cup of tea, it has a long journey, and contains incomparable hard work of workers.
Types of Teas in India:
- Pink chai in Kashmir/ Noon chai.
- Green tea.
- Masala chai in Gujarat.
- Herbal tea.
- Darjeeling chai.
- Tandoori tea.
- Irani chai of Hyderabad.
- Lemongrass tea
- Butter chai
- Iced tea etc.
Masala chai is the most famous traditional chai. In fact, the earliest chai didn’t contain any tea leaves and its recipes added according to the seasons and available ingredients according to the aroma. Nowadays, all these spices are added with black tea including Cinnamon, Star anise, Cardamom, Cloves, Fennel, Ginger, and peppercorn, prepared with herbal tea. These teas have Ayurvedic values, which are good for human health.
Therefore, chai is inseparable from the socio-cultural and socio-economical being of our country. The country consumes a whopping 837,000 tonnes of tea every year! In the international market, India’s brand earned a place for itself for its aroma and delicacy. Indian tea lovers have no boundaries, no class, and no doubts about having it from roadside vendors. Each stall has a unique taste, but it is chai that unified this difference.