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Journey of tea in India

The Tale Behind Your Beloved Chai

Chai, a beverage steeped with history and years of heritage is an integral part of our day. The delicious waft of simmering leaves with milk, ginger, and spices making the cup of chai a glorious morning ritual for many households. A beverage to welcome guests, to share with family, or just after a long day to relax chai is the preferred beverage. This adored beverage has a history that is 100 years old. Let us take you through a journey of our beloved “chai”

Though derived from the Mandarin dialect “cha” the identity of chai is etched in India. What was once consumed mainly black, milk was first introduced to tea around 1658 by a small section of people in Europe. In India however, chai was introduced about 5000 years ago as a medicinal drink used in Ayurveda. It contained no Camilla Sinensis and was mainly a mix of herbs and spices which had medicinal properties which today we know as ‘Kadha’.

Legend states that chai was developed by accident when a Buddhist monk on his way to China chewed on a few wild leaves to observe a ritual. He felt refreshed after chewing on these leaves and decided to bring them back to India. During the 1900s Indian travelers and traders who had access to milk and spices started adding the same to their tea brews giving birth to the earliest version of chai that we consume today. This was however only being done when Assam and Darjeeling tea leaves were being mass-produced and exported to Europe, and chai became known as a beverage rather than just a medicinal drink. Tea leaves being manufactured at that time were also extremely expensive and some believe that the milk and spices were added as an effort to reduce the cost of the tea leaves.

The Indian Tea Association during that time massively advertised using posters about the process of making chai and these were displayed in the railway stations. The impact was this led to chai being sold at railway stations and how chai was introduced to the masses. In the 1960’s CTC introduced its economical tea to the Indian market, which brought in a revolution in the tea industry for being affordable yet providing the intense, aroma and taste that to within seconds of boiling. Over the years CTC has provided us with various variations of “the chai, introducing twists from different states with their very own unique and complex flavorings.

If you are wondering how the trend of drinking chai in small came into being, it's when chai was introduced as a break for factory workers, textile mills, and mining workers to improve their efficiency. This is also led to chai being served at Chai stalls and the birth of India’s popular “Chaiwallah”.

Not Just a Beverage

Chef’s these days have elevated the chai experience by including chai as an ingredient in various desserts like chai cakes and cupcakes, crumb cakes, and even chai bars. High ends pubs are also experimenting with chai in their cocktails and fusion drinks like the Chai-tini, Chai spice whiskey are gaining popularity.

It is hard to dispute the statement “chai is woven into the fabric of our nation. It’s a drink that is easily available in every nook and corner or at any time, be it 7 am or 3 am our Chaiwallah are always around. It’s a drink that brings people closer, nothing beats a conversation with a friend over a cup of steaming chai. Steeped with history a cup of chai is more than your inseparable companion on a rainy day.

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