There are few things I relish more than the smell of Chai, and the morning ritual of making it. Many friends often ask how to make a proper cup of chai. It’s a surprisingly simple exercise with many variations (cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, masala, you name it). The key lies in getting a few ingredients right. I discuss these below, but first, I’m going to use this opportunity to reminisce.
It’s been 12 years since I first started traveling to and working in India. In those early days I was an avid coffee drinker. I started every morning with a strong pot of coffee made using an Italian Biialetti. My first encounters with India started with chai, from the smell of the chai in the Mumbai airport (amidst some other smells in those days) to the early mornings in the paying guest accommodation where I’d receive chai and toast (a hard stale rusk to be more precise) at my door when I awoke. The smell of chai was everywhere on that first trip to India–from the car that would pick me up, to the afternoon meetings I’d have with colleagues and friends.
I remember going to work at Cummins India Limited in Pune in those early days (May 2003). Every morning at 10 am the office runners would bring rounds of chai in little, dainty porcelain tea cups along with Britannia biscuits around to our desks. You could smell the chai brewing by 9:30, and the smell itself was enough to make your stomach rumble–cardamom, sugar, hot milk and strong Orange Pekoe tea boiling. It was as much a part of the company lifestyle as the blue and white striped uniforms everyone wore daily to work. The ceiling fans would be running, so by the time the tea would actually arrive it would have cooled a bit and would have a layer of crusted milk across the top. Everyone joked about that top layer, and would just pull it aside, to reach the hot, sweet concoction underneath that kept us all afloat throughout the day. The runners came at 10 am and 3 pm daily like clockwork with those little cups.
Over the years as I returned to India, especially as a researcher, I realized how important the act of drinking chai was in the social fabric everyday interactions. Just as my own relationship with the subcontinent grew more and more personal, so did my experience with chai–just as my friendships deepened, so did my love of chai. I remember the first time I met my husband in Bangalore (then dating), visiting him for chai and dosas. And over the years chai has replaced that morning cup of joe that I used to so fondly consume.
SO, to the question often asked, how do you make a pukka (proper) cup of chai? It’s not so difficult, if you have the right ingredients:
Ingredients for 1 Serving of Chai:
1 teaspoon Orange Pekoe Tea (I prefer Brooke Bond Taj Mahal tea)
2/3rd Cup Water
1/3rd Cup Milk
1-2 Cardamom Pods
1/2 Tablespoon sugar
Place water, tea, sugar and cardamom in a pot and bring to a boil. Then add the milk and lower the flame to med-low. Wait for the ingredients to come to a boil. I usually let the tea boil ntil i