If there is anything that unites Indians more than cricket and an all-consuming obsession with Bollywood, it’s their love for chai. Most of us would agree, whether on a sultry summer day or a toasty evening, there is always time for a piping hot cup of tea.
While people, especially in the Northern belt, prefer their tea with a fistful of sugar, packed with a punch of masalas – like ginger and pepper, often rounded out with a dash of cardamom, there are other variants which are equally interesting. The Capital, of late, has been experimenting with this much-loved drink. From Kashmir’s Kahwa and Noon Chai (salty pink tea) to Pune’s famous Tandoori Chai, you will be spoiled for choice.
Ever since the tandoor has been introduced as a medium of cooking, it has given birth to a hoard of delicacies – right from tandoori chicken to tandoori momos. In line with these creative recipes, a young BSc graduate Amol Dilip Rajdeo from Pune had a stroke of genius – to use the tandoor to make tea.
The idea might sound a little too offbeat but it took off instantly. Earlier available only in Chai La in Kharadi, opposite Zensar IT Park in Pune, this recipe travelled to other parts of the country only to become the talk of the town.
What makes this tea unique is its quirky style of preparation, wherein, an empty kulhad or clay pot is pre-heated in a tandoor and then half cooked tea is poured in it. The heat from the hot cup helps in brewing it further and lends an earthy flavour to it.
You can score a cup of Tandoori Chai at Alpha’ss in Mukherjee Nagar.
Come winters and Kashmiris often come down to the urbanscapes of Delhi to escape the harsh cold of the valley. It is then when we see small stalls lined up around Old Delhi that whip up a bright pink tea. Also called Noon Chai, this pink coloured tea is a salty one. Brewed in exotic samovars for hours, Noon Chai is available in areas around Jama Masjid for people who like a savoury tone to dominate their tea.
Apart from Noon Chai, the Kashmiris, famous for plating out rich delicacies like rista and gushtaba, also offer another interesting version of tea – Kahwa. Available in quite a few restaurants across the city, this Kashmiri take on green tea is flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom, almonds, saffron and rose petals and is known to keep the cold at bay during winters.
Even though tea became a popular beverage for Indians only during the later part of the 20th century, and was not particularly fancied by the Mughals, Mohammad Alam has been running a stall of Mughlai tea in the culinarily-rich streets of Jama Masjid for the past 50 years. On asking what he does differently, Alam replied, “The specialty of this tea is that we treat each ingredient separately and then bring them together.”
Another offering in the Capital is an eastern spin to the tea – the famous Tibetan butter tea. Much like bulletproof coffee, this tea uses a generous dollop of butter in its brew. Boiled with special leaves from Tibet, milk and salt and then topped with butter, this concoction makes for a perfect winter beverage.
With winter setting in, tea brings the perfect dose of warmth in a cup. On International Tea Day, take a tour across these tea-spots and enjoy your favourite brew.