Tea, Chai, Cha – Happy International Tea Day!
Chai – a special beverage that (almost) every Indian is fond of. Black tea, white tea, red tea, green tea, chamomile, jasmine, matcha, are just some of the varieties of teas popular around the world.
Though I’m not a true tea connoisseur, tea does have a special place in my life. My entire family loves tea. Our family’s favorite is the sweet milk tea flavored with a dash of grated/crushed ginger. On family gatherings/vacations, I say yes to a cup of tea only because I enjoy having it with everyone, while we chat and giggle and fight and argue, have fun and create memories – it’s like we bond over tea. Tea parties to socialize and bond, happen in many cultures around the world as well. I also have memories associated with this drink, especially from my travels, that give me a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Sharing some of my tea stories, memories, and experiences on this International Tea Day.
Bombay Cutting Chai
Bombay and everything associated with it is a ‘feeling’ for me. This city is close to my heart always and forever. And like I mentioned I’m not a chai person, but I love to indulge in the cutting chai to go with my favorite street food – Vadapaav. Bombay cutting chai is literally half-cup chai or half order, which simply means the chai is always shared with friends. We also call it one-by-two, by-two, and cutting chai.
Tea plantations in Wayanad, Kerala
I have visited the tea gardens in Wayanad and in Assam. This picture is from the tea estates of Wayanad. The history of Wayanad tea plantations goes a hundred years back when a group of Englishmen went to the hills around Wayanad and Tamil Nadu in search of gold. Well, they didn’t succeed in mining gold but the region got lush tea estates.
Up in the northeast of India, nestled along the mighty Brahmaputra and the eastern Himalayas, Assam is popular for one too many things along with its tea. The Assam tea is known for its strong and malty flavor and best had black.
Also read: Experiencing the Kerala Monsoons at Wayanad
My memory jogs to the cold winters of north India at the mention of Kulhad-wali chai.
Sweet, milk chai tea served in baked earthen pots gives a lovely earthy smell and taste. It feels heavenly to sip hot chai from these clay pots esp. during the early mornings and late nights of winter. Earthen pot usage goes all the way back to the Indus Valley Civilization which is perhaps why it is, though waning, but still a popular culture around the regions of north India and Pakistan.
This is the Kashmiri Kahwa I had during my travel to Kashmir before commencing the gorgeous Kashmir Great Lakes trek. The mention of Kahwa fills my mind with beautiful scenes of green meadows bordered by snowy Himalayan mountains. I almost feel the cool breeze and the fresh mountain air. I’m not sure if the Kahwa qualifies as tea, but I think it does, as the traditional Kashmiri Kahwa is a kind of herbal tea infused with cloves and cinnamons flavored with cardamom, saffron, and tiny chunks of dry fruits and nuts.
Pani-cum-Chai during Train Journeys
Train journeys across India are enjoyable. It’s a different kind of experience. I esp. love the mountain railways for the views. I find them very cute, maybe that’s also why those are nicknamed ‘toy train’. So far, I’ve traveled in the Himalayan Queen that runs between Kalka-Shimla in Himachal Pradesh and the Neral-Matheran toy train in Maharashtra. To travel on the Nilgiri mountain railway and Darjeeling toy train would be fun, and I look forward to it someday soon. The express trains are also very comfortable to travel in, these are faster and have nicer facilities.
Black Tea on Treks
Black tea on treks feels like a luxury. It is refreshing, provides warmth, and keeps me hydrated. Not to mention being surrounded by the most stunning views of the mountains, unique memories get stamped in my mind with each sip, associating itself with the chai+mountain experience.
Though I’ll choose coffee over tea, most times, I also enjoy black tea with lemon, ginger, and honey garnished with a mint or basil leaf.
Sometimes I drink just because I like the way it is served or the unique cups/mugs it is served in. I once had the black tea served in a beautiful Tibetan teacup in a town somewhere in Sikkim, a northeast Indian state. Another time, somewhere in south India, I had tea in the traditional brass containers (mostly used for coffee, since coffee is popular in South India).
Also read: Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim