From the boardroom to the drawing room, from serious discussions to friendly banter, from romantic rendezvous to friends catching up – what is common in all these scenarios? You guessed it – a hot or cold cup of refreshing and uplifting ‘chai’! To say that we Indians love our chai/tea is probably a huge understatement since it does not capture the frenzied obsession we have for that cup of tea. You could be anywhere – the long highway, or lonely stretch up into the mountains, a tiny roadside shack, or at a swanky mall – you are sure to find someone selling tea/chai. Ah, bliss!
Yes, the credit for introducing tea to India does go to our colonizers – the British – who brought this ‘heavenly’ beverage to our country in the nineteenth century. Their love for this divine refreshing liquid has put India on the map as the second largest producer of tea – we produce 900,000 metric tonnes of tea per year. While most of the tea produced is consumed by us Indians, the tea industry last year contributed about US$ 458.88 million to the economy through exports of this beverage.
The ‘culture’ of tea has evolved significantly since then, with local tea companies bringing this refreshing beverage to every home. This beautiful liquid is now consumed in so many different ways – adding milk, sugar, and even spices to the conventional method of boiled tea, which was the way the world consumed it. Calling it the love for tea is a minimization of how adored and ‘revered’ this beverage is in India. Tea is not just put on a pedestal for its exhilarating taste and plethora of flavors, but also because it is the ultimate elixir for stress, common colds, headaches, sore throats, and more.
Tea for Indians is a friend, an emotion, a body and mind soothing balm, pain and stress buster, and the perfect conversation starter and accompaniment. It is no surprise then that there are so many varieties of teas – whatever your taste and mood, be sure that there will be a tea to match. Let’s explore the top 10 Indian teas that make the palette sing and uplift the mood while providing health benefits:
· Masala Chai
This is the famous spiced tea that is prepared by boiling black tea leaves, and adding milk, sugar, and spices such as cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ginger, black pepper, star anise, and more (depending on taste). Almost every Indian household prepares this tea with their own unique ‘twist’, especially during the winter and monsoon months. The spices uplift the health benefits of tea – boost the immune system, provide the body with the ability to fight infections, and prevent those who consume it from catching a cold or getting a sore throat, or even seasonal illnesses.
One of the most loved because it is amongst the ‘strongest’ teas there is. The black leaves are brewed in hot water and allowed to simmer for a while on a low flame, which gives it gorgeous hues ranging from amber to red to dark brown. This tea too boosts immunity, nourishes the skin, and is an instant mood refresher.
· Butter Tea
This is one of the most popular and loved teas in the Himalayan regions, and is known as gur gur in spoken Ladakhi. This tea is popular across the Kashmir valley as well and is referred to as Pink tea or Gulabi Chai, or Noon (salt) chai. This tea is prepared with tea leaves, baking soda (which lends the unique pink color), salt, and milk. It is cooked in a samovar or metal urn. It is consumed several times in the day, as it keeps one warm in the severe cold conditions of the Himalayan regions.
· Turmeric Tea
Turmeric is referred to as a superfood and has become synonymous with health. There is a range of different varieties of turmeric tea blends, available as powder or tea bags. When preparing your morning cup of tea, with milk and sugar or jaggery, you can enhance the health benefits by adding fresh turmeric, either cut into small pieces or shredded. This is especially beneficial to accelerate the healing of wounds and reduce inflammation (both internal and external). If using decaffeinated tea, this beverage can be had just before bedtime too.
· Jasmine Green Tea
Jasmine is a favorite smell among Indians. Mixing jasmine oil in green tea creates an aromatic and uplifting beverage. You could also buy Jasmine tea bags for the same effect. This blend is packed with antioxidants, which means several health benefits – such as lowering the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and mental degeneration. This tea can be drunk chilled too – a great way to beat the torturous heat!
· Ginger Tea
Grated ginger root put into the mixture of hot water, tea leaves, milk, and sugar – and voila, you have an aromatic and palette-tingling beverage. Ginger tea makes for an energetic and healthy start to the day, and is almost heaven-sent on a cold winter morning and throughout the day. Ginger tea contains Vitamin C, magnesium, and several other minerals and vitamins. Add peppermint, honey, or lemon and you have a zingy twist to an all-time favorite tea.
· Kashmiri Kahwa
Kahwa translated means ‘tea that is sweetened’ and since it originates in Kashmir, it is referred to as Kashmiri Kahwa. This concoction uses green tea leaves, cinnamon, a generous sprinkling of saffron, cardamom, and sometimes rose petals. It can be served with sugar or honey – a cup brimming with health and a great way to keep away the shivers in winter.
· Green Tea
This is one of the healthiest teas, with a subtle taste and yet packed full of nutrients. Green tea can be had with several additions:
– Adding some chopped mint leaves instantly lifts the refreshing quotient of this tea
– The addition of ginger transforms it into a drink from heaven
– A dash of honey, not only sweetens your tea but also packs a punch with the health benefits it offers
– For a tangy twist that refreshes, add a few drops of lemon or buy lemon green tea
– The addition of tulsi leaves to your green tea, elevates its taste and the health quotient
· Tulsi Tea
Tulsi or holy basil – is not only a sacred herb, worshipped in many Indian homes, but it makes for a highly nutritious tea that is best had in the morning. The addition of tulsi to your everyday cup of tea boosts the immune system, reduces stress, and keeps one calm. It is also great to negate the effects of free radicals on the body.
· Tandoori Chai
Tandoori chai is often served in a kulhad. A kulhad is a mud cup that is baked in a tandoor until it hardens and reaches peak high temperature. The prepared tea, with milk and sugar, is then poured into this mud cup. The sizzling liquid acquires a smoky flavor, which is like a warm hug on a cold day.
The love of tea among Indians is one of the constants in this ever-changing world. Tea lovers and first-timers are experimenting with a variety of teas, mixes, and spices, raising the popularity of this beverage. Tea brands are responding with equal love and enthusiasm – creating new mixes and varieties – to appease all taste buds and ensure that these teas will make the palette sing.