The love affair between Indians and Tea is a tale that never ends. To simply put it, Tea is the heart of Indian society. Our daily life is so intertwined with tea, which we fondly refer to as Chai, that it would be of no sense if we skip it!
Genesis of Tea in India
Tea in India dates back to the scripts of Ramayana which states that the leaves of a certain plant in the Himalayas were used for healing which scholars believe is the tea plant. Officially tea was popularised in India by the Britishers with the commencement of the East India Company in the 19th century. Since then, tea has held a prominent place in the Indian society.
Taste of India
India is renowned for its chai. It is the second largest producer of tea in the world and the masala chai is a sweet yet spicy decoction infused with milk. The masala chai is actually a hybrid of the British tea and the Indian tradition of adding spices and herbs to the beverage. It is the beloved version of tea in India, loved by locals and travellers alike. Some of the popular Indian chais are Mumbai’s cutting chai, Hyderabad’s Iranian chai, the Kashmiri chai etc.
Morning Rituals and Evening Soiree
Chai is the focal beverage of all Indian families and is the conversation starter for many important meetings. It is usually had twice in the day, much like the British tradition. Some families have breakfast together while for some its more of an individual affair. Whatever it might be, tea is the AM companion for many. From Early Grey, English Breakfast to strong ginger or masala chai, tea is the robust brew that can give you the wake up call you really need.
Evening teas are more relaxed affairs, sometimes neighbours drop in for a quick hello or guests come by to visit. Tea is the beverage that brings everyone together. If the weather is a little nippy then hot pakoras are the ultimate combination to it.
Mornings or evenings, tea is the ubiquitous drink that ties people together.
The Quintessential Office Chai Breaks
Chai breaks in Indian offices are much more than the regular work breaks. Chai breaks are when important decisions are taken – deals are closed, employees get hired, travel plans are confirmed and more. This is the reason why a non-tea drinker panics when the rest of the team goes for a chai break. Its always a wise idea to tag along with your team during such times!
Let’s discuss this over a cup of tea
Having quick conversations over a cup of tea, either officially or not, happens when important decisions need to be taken. Something as big as sealing a deal with the client and sometimes as significant as fixing the bride or groom in arranged marriages can taken place over a tea meeting.
In fact, a political campaign was launched in India called as “Chai Pe Charcha” which means discussion over a cup of tea. More than a thousand stalls in 300 cities were set up so even the grassroot communities could be connected to. Such is the prominence of tea in the Indian society including the political arena.
Companion for Travelers
During the British Raj, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which started in 1878 had its roots in the Indian tea. It was more of an experiment by the Indian Tea Association to globalise tea by means of the Indian railway. A historian famously once wrote, “The chai-wallah is still the first thing a passenger hears on waking up in a train in northern India as he marches through the carriages, a metal kettle swinging in one hand and glasses in the other, calling out ‘chai-chai-chai ’.” Thankfully this continues even today where loud tea vendors walk up down the aisles of the train to hand over cups of tea to rather bored travellers who get satisfied by the steamy cup of masala chai even in sweltering heat. Such is the love for tea in this country.
Back in the day, The Tea Association of India quoted that “a better cup of tea could in general be had at the platform tea stalls than in the first-class restaurant cars on the trains.” These were put up as big hoardings in local languages across railway stations in India. One could quite easily agree that it is true till date. A good cup of tea can be easily found at street corners rather than at a fine diner.
Tea is interwoven into the fabric of the Indian society in more than one ways and its done in a rather beautiful manner. Remove tea from it and you take away many things that Indians cherish and hold close to their heart!