I have only been to India once but my endearing memory is of the superb and varied masala chais served throughout the country. Whether sold by a jaunty chai wallah (someone who serves or sells tea) at a railway station or sold from a rickety stall, heated on charcoal stoves and poured into a clay cup for a few rupees, the sweetened and strongly spiced brew acts as an uplifting instant refresher. I drank at least one cup every day seeking the wonderful Indian markets for the most rustic examples. The smallest villages had chai wallahs eagerly endorsing their fine products.
While recipes and ingredients vary from maker to maker, the primary ingredients are cardamon seeds, cloves, cinnamon sticks, ginger root, fennel and black peppercorns mixed with black tea in boiling water. Strain the tea and spices, add a generous amount of sugar or honey to bring out the intensity of the spices and add milk to taste. While chais are sold in packaged form in Australia (and probably America and Europe), none capture the delicate spicy sensation brewed in India from scratch.
Mostly, masala chai was served with a flamboyant high lift of the pot, ceremoniously poured into a cup from a distance. Chai captures the essence of India and is an experience not to be missed in this remarkable and culturally varied nation.
At the start of every month, Travel Wonders highlights a characteristic drink experienced on his travel. Previous non-alcoholic Drinks Around the World include Mint Tea from Morocco, Vietnamese slow-drip coffee, Coca Tea from Peru and Austria’s herby Almdudler.