Tandoori chai is often mistaken for masala chai. While the two may be close cousins, they are not the same.
If you’d like to have a taste of tandoori chai, a trip to Pune or Hyderabad may be in order. In Pune, the Chai La tea shop is run by Amol Rajdeo, who was inspired by his grandmother placing a kulhad of turmeric milk in the corner of a bonfire to heat it. He improvised the idea and used the same technique for chai, which has been adopted by other vendors along the highways leading to Pune. In Hyderabad, Meadow Masti in Basheer Bagh and Clubs Tandoori Chai in Madhapur serve the treat.
Iron tongs are used to place a kulhad in a hot tandoor. Once the kulhad has been heated up, sweet, milky chai is poured into it. The chai froths and sizzles, and trickles out of the kulhad, after which it is transferred to a new kulhad and served. An earthy, smoky flavour permeates the chai as a result of the process of heating the kulhad in a tandoor. The multiple pourings of the chai are a visual treat.
Chai La’s tandoori chai, as unique as it is conceptually, has gone on to become a trend after it was invented. On an average, about 20,000 kulhads of tandoor chai are sold everyday across all outlets in Maharashtra alone, according to an article in The Bridge Chronicle. “Within a year of its launch, Chai La grew from one outlet to more than 15 across Maharashtra alone, and has now made an entry into South India,” says the article.
Tandoori chai has even reached Kochi. Munthirikothu, a small restaurant in Kaloor, was one of the first places to introduce it to the region. Tandoori chai is often mistaken for masala chai. While the two may be close cousins, they are not the same. Masala chai uses cardamom as the main flavouring, while tandoori has the flavour of bay leaves, other spices and of course, the heated kulhad. The smokiness is tandoori chai’s real essence.
The initial response to Munthirikothu’s tandoori chai was less than enthusiastic, but it slowly became popular with youngsters. The shop begins to see customers in the late afternoon. A lot of people arrive from distant areas to sample the unusual tea.
Tandoori chai has become a mainstay in certain parts to the extent that variations of it have been developed. In Aluva, a place called Cafe Temptation has introduced flavours like Bournvita, Horlicks and Boost. All of these are prepared the traditional, tandoori way.
The drink has become so popular now that even expats have been known to be curious about it. The preparation, serving and presentation of tandoori chai are all different from what most people are used to. Its thickness, which is the result of a generous amount of milk being added, is its unique selling point besides the smoky flavour. Tandoori chai may not have caught on like cold brew coffee has, but it certainly enjoys a place of pride in some parts of the country.