Well, we’re finally home! After nearly two months in India for us, and a long month visiting the Idulgashinna tea garden in Sri Lanka, we’re back to the blogosphere—and we’ve got stories to tell. Keep an eye on the blog for a little taste of our tea-related travels!
“CHIIIIIIIIYE!“CHIIIIIIIIIIYE!“It’s a constant call riding the trains of India, a hoot from the side of the street, a jeer that’ll grab your attention no matter where you roam in the country—chai-wallahs (that is, tea vendors!) wanting to sell their goods to all passers-by.Let’s clear up the headway a bit before we get too deep. No, “chai” as we know it in North America isn’t the only type of tea in India. Chai actually means tea. Specifically, the Indian kind where they start with a basic loose leaf tea—say, Assam, or Darjeeling, most likely grown from the farm of a friend—and add their own mix of traditional spices, or “Masala,” to the mix to give it that lively Indian flavour (so technically, the tea we know in the western world as “chai” would be more properly defined as “masala chai”). It would be blasphemy for someone to adopt a pre-mixed Masala, as each family takes pride in their own blend—but it usually consists of some quantities of the dominant cardamom, as well as cinnamon, ginger, fennel, cloves, and maybe some peppercorn. And, almost always, it comes premixed with some added milk and sugar.Chai, in India, is a welcoming gift, a way of saying “you are welcome in our household, or office.” I was even once welcomed into an internet cafe with some complimentary chai. It’s a morning pick-me-up, or an after-meal digestive aid. The way it’s served depends on where you get it—maybe a paper cup at the train station, a clay cup (which, surprisingly, is for one-time-use only!) on the street side, a double-saucer setup at a restaurant, a set of fine china (chai-na?) at a family’s house.In India, the ties to tea are greater than that of our culture’s to coffee—it’s a lifestyle, it’s about people, it’s about welcoming and sharing camaraderie, all the while sharing a drink. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s tasty, too.