Chai: The National Drink of India

Vegan Masala Chai by Indiaphile.info

In India, guests are known as “emissaries of god,” they drop by any time they want without warning. When they come, you serve. You almost always serve them Chai. Whenever guests would come over to our house, my mom would immediately ask me to make a pot of chai. “Chai” is the Hindi word for “tea” but it usually means the well-known sweetened spiced milk-tea of India.

Chai is ubiquitous in India. It is the perfect drink for India’s hot weather because the hot tea triggers the body’s natural cooling reflexes and actually helps bring your body temperature down. Most Indians drink Chai at least twice a day, once with breakfast and again for an afternoon tea, just like the British. As it turns out, the British foisted tea on Indians not only as a way to sell tea, but also sugar.

Not surprisingly, the tea industry was brought to India by the British. Some of the best tea in the world grows in Darjeeling using tea and techniques for growing that the British East India Company stole from China in the 19th century.

Vegan Masala Chai by Indiaphile.info

It is an accident of history that at the time the British stole tea from China in a great act of industrial espionage, they also had a glut of sugar which they wanted to push as well, leading to Chai.

Chai is served on every street corner and on crowded train stations at all times of the day or night. In Bombay, chai is made so strong that the standard serving is “cutting chai,” a half glass of chai made strong enough that a half serving is plenty. If you want a full glass of chai, ask for a “double cutting chai”.

It is quite a sight to watch a street side vendor pour a cutting chai. They take one full glass of chai and one empty one. The chai is poured back and forth from one glass to another a few times from about 3 feet up and split equally between the two glasses. And amazingly not a single drop is spilled. This also helps to bring the chai down to drinking temperature.

Indians typically serve tea in their homes several times a day. India is the world’s second largest producer of tea and 70% of it is consumed within India. By April this year, chai will be officially declared the national drink of India.

When I was growing up, my parents had an open door policy in our home. Which basically meant we had people dropping by to visit all day long. That meant I had to make a lot of tea as a kid.

I tend to have a very American perspective on guests. I love to have them, but please call first. So as you can expect, having to make tea three or four times in a day for unanticipated guests got pretty annoying to me as a teenager. It often felt like some people made it a point to stop in a few times a week just to drink a cup of tea. I was annoyed, but my parents were always warm and welcoming. They are much kinder human beings than me!

Chai

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 3 pieces of lemongrass, about 2 inches long
  • 2 tsp black tea leaves
  • 2 cups milk (we use almond milk, but any kind will do)
  • sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp chai masala (or more if you want a spicier chai)

Instructions

  1. Add the lemon grass to the one cup of water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the almond milk, tea, sugar and chai masala.
  3. Bring to a boil again.
  4. Strain and serve hot.

Notes:

  • The traditional ratio for milk to water is half and half. So if you are using full fat milk, use 1.5 cups water and 1.5 cups milk.
  • For a stronger cup of chai, add 1 more teaspoon of tea leaves.
  • Feel free to add any of the following to your chai:
    mint leaves, ginger, saffron, orange zest, holy basil, black pepper, carom seeds (ajwain), star anise or any other spices or herbs you might want to try.


Nutrition Info
Serving Size Sodium 0mg
Calories 0 Trans Fat 0g
Carbohydrates 0g Fat 0g
Protein 0g Cholesterol 0g

Comments

  1. says

    what are those cookies you served with? I know I’ve had them, and was dreaming about them a few months ago, but don’t know what they’re called, so can’t look for a recipe!

  2. says

    Hello! They are Belgian Butter Almond Thins. Mine are from Trader Joe’s but I’m sure your homemade versions will be delicious! :)

  3. Brad says

    I think I’m in love, your blog has changed my life! :) It’s great to be in NYC where I find the ingredients easily.

  4. says

    Fantastic information! And I’m in love with the tea cup and saucer in the picture. I’m trying to buy new cups and saucers and just don’t know where to find beautiful ones. Can I ask where that set came from?

    • says

      Hi Steven. I love the cups and saucers too! Unfortunately, I have no idea where they came from. They were a gift from an aunt. Here’s the info printed on the bottom though: Imperial China. Designed by W Dalton, Japan. 5671 Whitney. Hope this helps! :)

  5. renkiyo7 says

    What kind of tea leaves do you use for the chai? I have been using Taj Mahal but I’m not really satisfied with the brand…

    • says

      I am always buying different brands of teas to experiment with. You can’t go wrong with a good quality Darjeeling black tea. I really like Mighty Leaf. For a basic inexpensive option, I personally really like Lipton loose black tea.

  6. Mai says

    I’ve been wanting to make chai at home for so long… also fell in love with the tea and it’s pretty much the only tea I drink now!
    Thanks for the awesome post, I’ll be trying it as soon as I can get my hands on the ingredients :)

    • says

      Hi Rose. In India, my parents had a plant and we only used the leaves for tea. But here in San Diego, I just cut pieces of the stems since those are so much easier to find. I think both the green and white parts of lemongrass work equally well in tea. So I’d say to just use whatever you have on hand.

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