Chai On The Road

I confess to being a bit of a chai snob.

Having consumed flavourful high grown Nilgiri tea at its source for decades, and brewed the propah English way, it would be an understatement to say I am picky about my tea. I detest the thick, sugary, milky cha/chai served in homes across India and when I visit my city-friends (ex planters know better :-)) I am usually expected to make my own tea or opt for coffee.

The flavour of my tea is obviously dependent on the quality of the leaf that goes in, and of late, the tea bags I use, and I even carry my favourite brands with me when I travel.

Mom, who scoffed at my watery ‘phoren‘ brew and dismissed it as ‘ditch water’, was different though. She always managed to turn out perfect tea that varied little in flavour regardless of whether it was brewed from fine packaged dust or fragrant orthodox leaves from the Nilgiris or the stronger CTC from Munnar supplied by my brother in law (also an ex tea planter). We marveled at the consistency of her decoction and after much debate arrived at the conclusion that it was the clear, sweet local water that enhanced its flavour. But my sister jokingly attributed it to the fraying, dismal brown muslin rag mom used to strain the leaves.

We were surprised by how much we enjoyed tea from the chaiwallahs on our road trip across UP last September and in Calcutta during Christmas. With the milk and sugar toned down and just a hint of ‘masala’, we consumed some of our best tea since mum’s passing.

And I swear, the ones using brown stained muslin for strainers were distinctly more flavourful:-)

Tea stall in Malick Ghat Flower Bazaar, Kolkata

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

101 thoughts on “Chai On The Road

  1. How did you know I’m a tea lover? I never did acquire a taste for coffee so it’s tea with breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then some. I’m intrigued by the use of muslin. I’m guessing that the more it’s used the better the brew…like a favorite old baking pan?

  2. Aha! So the straining has something to do with it. I’m currently addicted to the Singaporean style of brewing, which involves a “sock” (basically a muslin on a metal hoop) and you might have put your finger on why it’s so appealing. Of course, they fill it full of milk and sugar so it might not appeal to you 🙂 .

  3. The photographs are evocative, Madhu, and make me want to be there. And I love the story! Especially the “fraying, dismal brown muslin rag” and the way you come back to it at the end! 🙂

  4. sadly my only tea is herbal like peppermint or roibos, but I can enjoy the fragrance of other teas, and the splendour of your photos! love the grumpy man cooking his delicious treats 🙂

  5. Street tea is amazing isn’t it 🙂 For a few years I regularly visited one particular chai walah. He got accustomed to my presence and a small cuppa would be ordered without my even asking! I recently paid him a visit after a gap of over a year, and there was not much difference there…

    It’s been a while since I’ve been around these parts too 🙂 and my what a world of difference. Is that background image from Kolkata? Curious to know why its been inverted 😉 Looking forward to catching up on the older posts…

    1. You are sharp!! I was just wondering if anyone had noticed that I had flipped the image! 🙂 I wanted the Rickshaw (yes, from Kolkata) on the right. Shall have to see if I can flip those darned Vodafone signs around 🙂

  6. I’m wondering how close Starbucks’ Chai Latte is to the real thing. I usually drink the various flavors of Chai tea from the grocery store (Oklahoma City, OK), and wonder if those various flavors are Americanized or authentic.

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