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Chai Ho !!! – Is chai the national drink of Indians?


For many who have migrated from India, drinking tea with friends in their favourite nukkad, chowk or tea shop are nostalgic moments. For many tourists and next gen Indians the chai seems to be ‘the’ connection to India. Even on hot summer days, we Indians have learnt the knack to sip the tea with much delight. It has almost become a national habit, apart from watching cricket. It’s a speciality in Mumbai the busy roadside chaiwala has even learnt the art of economising by serving a “cutting” which means tea served in a half-size glass.

Even here in Auckland, the Indianised version of tea or masala chai is quite popular. Right from Diwali meals to social gatherings the masala tea has a regular presence. Even charitable organisations sell masala tea to fund raise during community events. Cosy and exotic tea shops like the ‘T2’ shop in Botany shopping centre or ‘Chapter’ ~ Book café and tea shop in Mt.Eden road sell a range of exquisite teas including the Indian tea blends. Chai latte from the espresso machine is also a popular option. All this just adds to the retail therapy here in Auckland.

The chai is a staple drink of Indians and also a habitual beverage with the ‘aam admi’ – common man for generations. Chai is certainly an integral part of Indian hospitality and daily living in India and elsewhere. Right from the common man to the elite snob, the humble Indian tea has many patrons.

Probably tea is consumed more than water by Indians, which is not something to be really proud of especially from a medical standpoint. But masala chai is certainly known to be beneficial. It’s not completely surprising to note that some 5 or 6 years ago, the Federation of All India Tea Traders Association (FAITTA) and the tea producers were lobbying hard with the Indian government to announce tea as the National Drink of India and also mark a day as the National Tea Day. The tea board even came up with a “Piyo More Chai” campaign.

By now the tea, especially the masala chai has fairly established itself as a health drink too. There are tea-connoisseurs all over the world and even online tea snobs like declaring their passion for tea. The popularity of the Indian spiced tea is ever increasing with some global brands like ‘YOGI’ tea etc becoming extremely popular with health-conscious shoppers. Local chain stores stock quite a range of spiced chai brands these days.

The legacy of tea in India is old and the masala chai has a history of more than 5,000 years in India. The first recorded reference to tea in India was in the ancient epic of the Ramayana but not conclusive. The next reference was made in the stories of the Chinese monk Gan Lu, who while travelling to India to pursue Buddhist studies during the 1st or 2nd century is said to have taken tea plants back home to China. The legends of the South Indian monk Bodhidharma (around 4th century) who went to China also shows involvement with tea.

Research shows that tea is indigenous to north eastern India where it was cultivated and consumed for thousands of years. Commercial production of tea in India did not begin until the arrival of the British East India Company in the mid-1800s, as India became known to grow indigenous tea plants; especially in the North East in places like Darjeeling and Assam. In fact, these days Assam teas, or blends containing Assam, are often sold as “breakfast” teas as advertised in some websites. English Breakfast tea, Irish Breakfast tea, and Scottish Breakfast Tea are just common generic names of Indian black tea from Assam.

In the early 1800s samples of these indigenous Indian tea plants were sent to an East India Company botanist who finally convinced that they are bona fide tea plants. In 1838 the tea from Indian soil were sold in England and the world market. A small amount of tea samples were sent to England and quickly purchased due to its distinctiveness.

Today India is the world’s largest tea producing country and has nearly 40,000 plus tea estates and a workforce of more than a million people. It’s reported that 70% of the tea is consumed within India itself. The most famous and largest tea growing regions in India are Assam where tea is known for its full-bodied taste and dark colour; Darjeeling known for its tantalizing aroma, light colour and Nilgiri where tea is powerfully aromatic and flavoured.

It is said that ‘Food is medicine but medicine is not food’. But tea seems to take the middle path by being both. It’s an instant refresher and has got many health benefits if prepared authentically. Research has proved that masala chai (prepared in the Ayurvedic tradition) boosts your immune system, aids digestion, increases metabolism, eases tension and also has excellent antioxidant properties. So, have Indian masala chai and smile your way to good health.


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