In India, the hot, brewed cuppa is not just an alkaloid fix. India’s morning cup is a social catalyst, brewing ideas and conversations over steam. Even in the busy, urban India, you would find clusters of people chatting over impossibly tiny plastic cups of their favorite hot beverage, outside office buildings. True to India’s huge cultural diversity, India’s morning cup has many avatars across the nation. Here’s a tour of India, one delicious cup at a time:
The Highlander’s Potion
Kashmir romanticizes the tea! The Kashmiri Hindus prefer the Kahwa – a traditional green tea preparation, made with saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, honey and almonds. The Muslims, in Kashmir, are fonder of the dramatic Pink Chai or Noon Chai – made with special tea leaves, milk, salt and a pinch of baking soda, that gives the beverage its tell-tale color. Both Kahwa and Noon Chai are brewed continuously in the elaborate, self-boiling samovars.
The samovars also find place of honor in Ladakhi culture, brewing Kahwa and the famous Butter Tea or Gur Gur Chai – made from tea leaves, yak butter, water and salt.
Tea Snobs of the East
There are only two kinds of Bengalis – those who consume Liquor Cha and those who prefer Dudh Cha. No matter how it sounds, there is nothing Irish about the former. Liquor Cha is, essentially, an aromatic concoction, made from tea leaves sourced partly from Assam and partly from Darjeeling – without milk and preferably, without sugar. The aficionados of Liquor Cha tend to take a classist stand against those who prefer a conventional brew of tea leaf dust with milk and sugar – Dudh Cha.
In many parts of eastern India, especially in the railway stations, you may still be served Cha in tiny, earthen pots or Maatir Bhaar. The aroma of the tea mixed with the flavors of the red earth is an unforgettable experience.
The classification holds good in Assam with a change of nomenclature – Ronga Sah (red tea without milk) and Gakhir Sah (milk tea).
Masala Chai is undoubtedly India’s favorite beverage. Almost every region has a version of its own – like buffalo milk brew in Punjab, a pinch of salt in Madhya Pradesh or cutting chai in Maharashtra (named such because of the amount of tea served). Most versions are made from Mamri Tea brewed with a potent combination of spices – cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, peppercorns, star anise, fennel seeds and nutmeg. Versions may omit one or more of the spices mentioned above. But, in any form, the kick of Masala Chai can be felt for hours after!
The Persian immigrants to India in the 19th Century set up Iranian Cafes – most of them in Hyderabad and Mumbai. The brew they serve is one of the most popular beverages in these cities today – the Irani Chai, also known as the Paani Kum Chai. Served with the bun muska, mutton samosas and keema pavs – it is a sip closer to heaven!
In Hyderabad, Osmania biscuits with Irani chai is a very popular combination. The tea concoction is prepared separately and that has a very bitter taste. The milk is condensed for 12 hrs (overnight) and then these two are mixed while serving. This is a very thick tea and along with biscuit, can almost become a mini meal
The southern part of India (Karnataka, coastal Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala) is devoted to the stronger beverage – the rich, aromatic, filter coffee, better known in these parts as Kaapi! It is a drink made by mixing frothed milk with decoction of finely ground coffee powder. Most south Indian households host a personal, portable metal coffee filter with two chambers – the upper tumbler for hosting the powder and hot water, that seeps through a perforated disc to the lower tumbler as Filter Kaapi concentrate. And the aroma can make you salivate from a mile away!
So, what’s steaming in your cup this morning?
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