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FROM the cup that cheers to one that frees you from a daze or quenches a thirst, there’s reason and plenty for tea being India’s national drink for some time now. The ritual of drinking chai transcends all boundaries, chai breaks are a famous part of the work culture. From Gujarat’s “ordinary chaiwala” becoming the Prime Minister to the powerful “chai pe charcha” by Narendra Modi during 2014 General Elections, tea has always taken centre stage in our lives.
For a fact though, India is among top tea manufacturers in the world, even if it accounts for an inevitable figure in exports at the moment, a large dollop is consumed at home.

Gujrati Chai
Gujrati Chai

Good morning Gujrat!
What does a Sunday morning in a Gujarati household look like? The entire family sitting together and chit-chatting while sipping doodh wali masala chah aka chai along with staple Gujarati snacks. Masala tea is an age-old Gujarati concoction that has travelled from ancient kingdoms to modern tea shops. Enriched with the goodness of ginger, holy basil, mulethi, poppy seeds, cloves and cinnamon, it’s a rejuvenating medley of health and taste.

Butter tea
Butter tea

Buttered glee
Yes, that’s what it is, though named differently by various places. While it’s called gur gur in Leh, it’s po cha in Tibet. This tea is generally made at home and not served in restaurants — looks pink and tastes salty. The butter, churned from Yak milk helps keep lips from getting chapped in the harsh cold weather. The salt helps to stay away from altitude sickness. In fact, for monks, it is their fuel for meditation. “We drink tea also, but our ingredients are different. As tea we use compassion. As milk we use tolerance. As water we use forgiveness, and for sugar self-discipline. That is the recipe for Buddhism,” as cited by a monk to the Chai wallahs of India.


Thick twist

From November to February, Maharashtra’s countryside households, Konkan coast to be precise make the national drink extra special. Their Gur tea is a nutritious and tasty way to keep cold at bay. It is an eye-candy to watch it prepare in brass-wares on smouldering wood. While the traditional folks still consume it without milk, the younger generation opts with milk along with rest of the ingredients.
Another treat that Maharashtra goes ga-ga over is Nagori. This is a special tea named after the Muslim community found in Gujarat and Rajasthan, consumed by one and all. A very expensive one indeed and why not, it prepared with the most premium cow or buffalo milk, churned into a thick consistency and made into something heavenly!

Whatever else may be off the menu at any given time of the day or year, tea is a must-have several times around — at homes, restaurants and dhabas, across railway stations spanning the country, even at crematoriums. It is a while away beverage that consoles those who have lost loved ones as much as it soothes the passage of time.

Debameeta Bhattacharya

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