- By Deepa Krishnan
It's raining outside, and in this kind of weather, I can't stop thinking about chai!
Hot, sweet, milky, chai. Especially from the chai-shop outside our office. This shop goes by the uninspired name of Prince Milk Center, but their chai is to die for. Maybe it's the huge amounts of sugar they add to it, or the way they keep boiling it until the milk acquires the rich, condensed smell of kheer. Who knows? All I know is, I absolutely crave it everyday. (Yaaaaaaaaargh. It's Sunday today! I have to wait until tomorrow to drink it!)
Meanwhile, as a consolation of sorts, I found a cool chai-inspired T-shirt at the Tantra website. It has a chai-wallah doing his usual rounds with a dented aluminum kettle and half a dozen cheap tea-glasses (you can click on it to see a larger image, I love the quirky illustration).
Chai - India's National Drink
Stronger than Vodka, Healthier than Rum, Cheaper than Scotch.
The T-shirt is prompted of course, by the Planning Commission's announcement that tea will officially be declared the national drink of India from April 2013. If the Russians and Scots and everyone else can have a national drink, so can we!
Chaiwalla at Mangaldas Market
According to an ORG-India Tea Consumption Study, 83% of homes in India drink tea. I find this a bit hard to believe, considering how many people can't afford even food. And there is a substantial South Indian population who drink coffee.
Anyway, according to this same study, tea is also the cheapest beverage in the world after water. Perhaps, perhaps... But not in Mumbai, where our office tea guy charges Rs 14 for a "special masala chai" and Rs 10 for a "regular" chai. Fortunately, he offers "cutting chai" (tea served in half-glass portions), which makes his regular chai a very affordable 5-rupee addiction.
One of the nicest things about being in the travel business is that you get to travel all over the country. This also means endless opportunities to try tea in all sorts of places. I've had fantastic chai in remote little villages, highway dhabas, mid-size towns and big cities.
This year, the best tea I've had was at a small non-descript tea-stall in the Old City of Ahmedabad. It was early morning, and we were on a "pol" walk through several heritage neighbourhoods. Mid-way through the walk, we stopped for chai. The entire neighbourhood was quiet, and just this one stall had its burner going and tea on the boil. The owner was a glum sort of fellow, not the chatty smiling variety. But he quickly served us chai in a simple white cup-and-saucer, and in the cool morning hours, the taste was simply divine.
Post Script: After I finished writing this story, I spotted yet another chai T-shirt, this one from Tribal Route.
If you spot any more chai-collectibles, let me know!