“Chai” is the Hindi word for tea, and you’d better learn it if you’re going to India. It’s the national drink, though in South India coffee takes precedence, and can be terrific.
Chai is variable, of course, but my favorite is the kind served on trains, which used to come in one-use unglazed pottery cups that would impart an earthy flavor to the drinks. The cups were disposable and biodegradable, and also a symbol of the kind of hand labor that Gandhi favored with his “spinning wheel” campaign. Sadly, they’re being replaced with plastic cups that are NOT biodegradable, and so the train tracks are littered with plastic. On the other hand, the cups were earthenware because labor is cheap in India; a pottery cup of chai would cost at most a dime.
At any rate, chai is always made with milk and sugar (and, if you’re lucky, cardamom, cloves, and ginger); it’s a restorative drink, and, since the tea is powdered or cheap, it’s not a connoisseur’s drink.
But some people, like this chai seller in Madurai, take great pride in how they prepare chai. A true Tea Man prides himself on the Long Pour, which mixes the milk and tea and also froths the milk. That pour is essential.
Now this is a cuppa!
This guy is really good at the obligatory Long Pour, and adds a full twist for 9.5 out of 10.
And here it is in Delhi. This is so evocative for me. And how can you not enjoy the tea even more when watching it made is such a show? I’m sure this guy is locally famous—look at the customers. I think I heard “do (pronounced ‘dough’) rupee” as a price, which is “two rupees”: about 3 American cents.
If you want to make good chai at home, this video will show you how.