Unlocking The Mysteries Of Traditional Indian Chai
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In India, tea is more than just a drink—it is a way of life. From the bustling city streets to the remote mountain villages, you'll find Indians sipping on a steaming cup of tea at all hours of the day. But with so many varieties and brewing methods, it can be hard for outsiders to understand the complexities of Indian tea.

Types of Indian Tea and Brewing Methods

There are several types of tea that are consumed in different parts of the country, and several traditional methods used to make chai. The most popular method is to boil the tea leaves, spices, and milk together in a pot on the stove. This is the traditional method that has been used for centuries, and it is still commonly used in households and small tea stalls all over India.

Masala Chai

First, let's talk about the most popular type of tea, also known as masala chai, which is a spiced tea made with black tea leaves, milk, and a mix of spices such as ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. It is a staple in many Indian households and can be found at nearly every street corner in the form of "chaiwallahs" (tea vendors).

Chai is typically made by boiling the tea leaves, milk, and spices together and then straining the mixture before serving. The result is a rich and flavorful tea that is perfect for warming up on a cold day or for sipping on during a busy workday.

Darjeeling Tea

Darjeeling tea is grown in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal and is known for its delicate flavor and aroma. Darjeeling tea is made from the Camellia sinensis plant and is typically harvested in three different seasons, known as the "flush" seasons, which result in different qualities and prices. The first flush, which is harvested in late spring, is considered the best and most expensive. Darjeeling tea is typically prepared by steeping the leaves in hot water for 3-5 minutes. 

Assam Tea

Another popular type of tea in India is Assam tea. This tea is grown in the Assam region of northeastern India and is known for its strong, malty flavor. Assam tea is made from the Camellia sinensis var. assamica plant and is typically harvested in the spring and summer. It is often used in blends for masala chai and is also used to make traditional Indian tea, known as "kadak chai," which is a strong, black tea with a high amount of caffeine.

Kullad Tea

Another unique brewing method found in India is "kullad chai." This method is commonly found in rural areas and involves brewing tea in a clay pot, or "kullad." The tea is brewed in the kullad and served in the same vessel. The tea is believed to have a unique taste and aroma due to the porous nature of the clay pot.

Butter Tea

This beverage is common in the Himalayan region and has its origins in Tibet, where it is traditionally prepared using tea leaves, butter, water, and salt. In Ladakhi, butter tea is referred to as "gurgur" and has health benefits that are appropriate for the mountainous region. It's calorie-dense and traditionally used to prevent chapped lips.

To prepare butter tea, a particularly strong and smoky variety of brick tea, salt, and yak butter are whipped together in a wooden cylindrical churn called a chandong, along with a chunk of yak butter and salt, and the mixture is churned for a couple of minutes before being served as butter tea.

Nilgiri Tea

This tea is also known as "blue mountain tea" due to its origins in the southern regions of the Western Ghats. As well as helping with weight loss and diabetes, this robust black tea is renowned for its robust flavor and aromatic aroma. Light but full-bodied or well-rounded in flavor, with citrus and floral notes—these are all words used to describe Nilgiri tea.

A large, round teapot is ideal for brewing Nilgiri tea because it allows the leaves to fully expand, allowing for a more effective swirling action and a more robust flavor extraction. It takes about three to five minutes to brew. Tea tastes better when given more time to steep. You can give your tea a tangy flavor by adding a slice of lemon to it, or even add milk to it if you prefer milk tea.

Sulaiman Tea

Sulaimani Chai (Malabar Spiced Tea) is a black tea flavored with whole spices and served without milk in India. It is the beverage of choice along the Malabar coast of India. Black tea, once steeped, is said to be full of beneficial antioxidants and aid in digestion and intestinal health. It's been said to maintain heart health while lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol.

It was brought to India by the Arabs and is now brewed not just in Kerala’s Malabar region at any of the numerous tea shops that line the streets, but also in the historic district of Hyderabad. Golden-colored tea is brewed with whole spices and black tea powder (a beautiful shade of amber). It's finished with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, which makes it super refreshing.

Kahwa Tea

Lastly, we have Kashmiri Kahwa, a traditional tea from the Kashmir region. This tea is made with green tea leaves, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, and almonds. It is often served as a sweetened tea with a dash of honey or sugar. The tea is brewed in a pot and served in small, handle-less cups called "kahwah."

From the spicy masala chai to the delicate Darjeeling tea, there is a tea for every palate. Whether you're a tea connoisseur or a casual drinker, understanding the different types of Indian tea can help you appreciate the rich history and culture behind this beloved drink. Enjoy!