Tea time

Chai in a glass

This chai was my first attempt to make Mumbai’s famous masala chai. On the street, chai is served in a small, short glass tumbler. In restaurants, it is normally served in a ceramic cup.

“You take too long to drink your tea. It is not good for your health,” says my Hindi tutor, and not for the first time. This refrain has become a chorus with her. Evidently, I should not take more than 10 minutes to drink my tea. For me, this is a practical impossibility. I just don’t drink that fast. I was that girl in college who nursed a single beer for more than an hour. Really. Other drinks are no different.

Indians drink tea like Americans drink coffee. It is a morning pick-me-up, a social beverage, and a staple in any Indian home. India is the second largest producer of tea behind China. Last year, India produced more that 988 million kg (2.1 billion lb) of tea. That’s billion with a B. However, only 192 million kg (423 million lb) was exported because most tea produced in India is consumed locally. The Tea Board of India estimates that domestic consumption last year was 856 million kg (1.8 billion lb), and, on average, Indians consumed 718 g (1.5 lb) per person.

India is famous for its tea. While three distinct tea-producing regions exist in India, (Nilgiri in the south; Assam and Darjeeling in the north), Darjeeling is the most famous. Much like champagne from the Champagne region of France, Darjeeling tea is strictly regulated and controlled. These quotes from the Tea Board website illustrate the romanticism attached to this tea:

Darjeeling, where the breath of the Himalayas surrounds the traveller, and the deep green valleys sing all around. Darjeeling is where the world’s most fabled tea is born. A tea that echoes mystery and magic in every sip.

The earth sings for you in Darjeeling. The women pluckers smile and, with the radiance of their joy, the sun rises over the gardens. Behind them, set against the rosy dawn sky, loom the snows of Kanchenjunga.

Makes you want to hop aboard a toy train and take a tour through tea plantations, doesn’t it?

Take it away, Kishore Kumar and Rajesh Khanna!

Mere sapno ki rani

How to make tea

For the perfect cup, the Tea Board recommends the following procedure:

  1. Fill the kettle or teapot with freshly drawn cold water.
  2. When the water is near boiling point, pour a little into the teapot, swirl around, and tip away. This leaves a hot, clean teapot.
  3. Measure the tea carefully into the pot, allowing one rounded teaspoon or one teabag for each cup required.
  4. Bring the water to a rolling boil.
    Do not allow it to boil too long, as it will boil away some of the flavour-releasing oxygen and result in a flat cup of tea.
  5. Pour the water onto the leaves or tea bags.
    Do not pour the water and then add the tea. This will only result in a poor cup of tea.


This procedure reflects what I have been told to do by locals:

  1. Boil cold water.
  2. Add tea, ginger, cardamom, and other herbs as desired.
  3. Allow tea to boil for a few minutes until it turns the correct (dark brown) color.
  4. Add milk and allow to boil for a couple of minutes.
  5. Remove tea from burner and strain the tea.
  6. Consume tea while still hot.


This morning, I read that a chai a day will keep me slim and fit. According to the article, drinking tea results in smaller waistlines, sharper minds, stronger bones, and healthier hearts. While I don’t doubt that the antioxidants in tea are good for me, why do I get the feeling that this article is sponsored by the Tea Board of India?


2 thoughts on “Tea time

  1. Loved this piece as I am an avid tea drinker. The Assam blend is my preferred black tea, but I love chai. Here’s an interesting question re: step 4 of the Tea Board’s procedure: How long? I think your recipe by your local friends answers that question, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it where you add milk to the boiling pot. Now, I’m in the mood for some chai.


  2. Thanks, Scott. They were vague on the time other than too long. The general rule when boiling it is about 2 to 5 minutes.

    Here, chai is the generic word for tea. The tea we call chai is actually closer to what is called masala chai here. It is spicy like US chai.

    I was skeptical of adding the milk because I always remember Emeril’s admonition that you should never boil milk unless you want to redecorate your kitchen. But, it is the only way to get the film that is normally seen on the top of masala chai here.


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