Chai is the national drink of India. It is the glue that keeps our friendships intact. A guest cannot leave our homes without being offered at least a cup of tea. Our road trips would be dull without the mandatory Chai stops at the shops that line up our highways as much as they line up our hinterlands. At our gatherings, types of chai is assumed to be there unless you are in Goa.
Nukkad Chai stalls are what I miss the most in Goa. If there is one thing that makes Goa distinct from other parts of India, it is these missing tea stalls. Young entrepreneurs here is your opportunity. Last year spent at home, makes me miss those conversations over tea with fellow travelers as well as absolute strangers you bond with over a cup of tea.
Types Of Chai You Must Have In India
It was a good time to look at all the past images and bring out these flavors of various types of Chai for you from across the country and some even from abroad.
Lal Cha of Assam
We must begin by paying homage to the land that sends us our morning cup of tea. In Assam and in most of North East India, including Sikkim, you get Lal Cha. It is simply black tea, without any milk but with generously added sugar. The color of the tea is reddish-brown, true to its name Lal Cha. On the roads of Assam, Arunachal, Meghalaya, and Sikkim, this is the tea that kept us going. Within a day or two of drinking it, it becomes an integral part of your road trip in the region. Next time when you land there, you are seeking Lal Cha.
Maybe they use some special types of chai leaves, the decoction itself is not so bitter. Unlike what we find elsewhere in the mainland across India.
Fudina Chai of Nathdwara
Now, Nathdwara in Rajasthan is a small pilgrimage town revolving around the Haveli of Srinathji. In the lanes leading to the Srinathji temple, you find these Thelas or pushcarts with bunches of fresh mint leaves on them. Mint or Pudina as it is called in Hindi has bigger leaves than usual and called Fudina instead of Pudina. You are served tea in small conical kulhads or clay cups. One sip and it wakes you up. The sharp flavor of mint hits you and there is no way any of your senses can be sleeping.
I was told that this variety of mint is found only in this region. Besides this, I have not seen mint being used so generously in tea anywhere else. So, when you visit Nathdwara, along with the blissful prasad of the temple, do try this Fudina version.
Gud Gud Chai or Butter Tea of Ladakh
Butter tea is actually found in all the hills dominated by Buddhist monasteries. In fact, monasteries are the best places to taste this type of tea. Visit the monastery in the morning when monks are doing their chanting while sipping the hot tea. It is salty and buttery in taste. It is not really my favorite tea and I avoid it as far as possible. However, you must taste it once before you decide you like it or not.
Most hotels in Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Arunachal, and Bhutan serve butter tea.
Kahwah of Kashmir
Your trip to Kashmir valley is not complete without Kahwah – the mild tea flavored with spices and dry fruits. Most hotels would serve you a cup of Kahwah as soon as you land there. Sipping cups of Kahwah while sitting in the mild sun looking at snow-clad mountains is the best thing to do in Kashmir. As there is no milk used, you can have as many cups as you want. It is like sipping flavored water that keeps you warm.
It is made with walnuts, almonds, and saffron as key ingredients.
Watch this video on how to make Kahwah:
Masala Chai – Anywhere. Popular among types of Chai
This is probably among the most favorite types of Chai for anyone. The new-age cafes like to call it Truck Walon Ki or Trucker’s Chai. Given the fact that truck drivers spend the most amount of time on the road and hence drink copious amounts of tea, this has to be good. I love masala tea.
It comes with a choice of what masala you use. Well, you can use any spices like – black pepper, cardamom, cloves, tulsi leaves, cinnamon, lemongrass, or fennel seeds as you like. Most popular and my favorite is the Ginger tea or ‘Adrak wali Chai’ as we call it. You can choose your own combo of spices, one, two, or all of them. This milk tea can fill you up. It goes best with Samosa or Pakodas or in fact after any street food.
In North and East India, you get it in Kulhads, straight out of the Aluminium kettle that would go back on Chulha. In other parts, you get it in small glasses that we immediately identify with a tea shop. Outside colleges and in western India, you get the smallest portion as cutting chai, where one cup is divided among several people.
Irani Chai in Hyderabad
I do not know how many Irani people would own up this version of Chai in their names. But this is the version Hyderabad loves to drink. It is made in Big Degchis or big round pots, allowing it to boil and brew for a long time. This is a real milky tea with lots of milk. Sometimes I wonder if they use any water to make it. It is creamy, light brown in color, and sweet. Hyderabadis love to pair it with Osmania biscuits. A type biscuit named after the last nawab and comes with a pinch of salt in it. I like my tea kadak, and this is not one of them. But your Hyderabad visit is not complete without Irani Chai.
In my student days, we had a student of Iran who used to make his version in the lab beaker. It used to be the tastiest black tea I have ever had. One day he shared the recipe – boil water, add half the tea leaves and double the sugar with reference to your normal Indian tea. Let the lovely color emerge before you take it off the fire. I prefer to call this Irani Chai.
Kesar Chai in Hyderabad
I discovered this special version of Kesar or Saffron Chai in the lanes of Hyderabad around Charminar. We were at Nayab shop for snacks after a long walk. When the owner saw me not having the Irani version, he offered me this one. Now, this is a concoction made with tea and an ample amount of Kesar. Milk is added just before it is served to the customer. So, I could tell them to add just a spoon of milk. The tea has a unique flavor and the best part is you can get the milk level customized.
This version is our pro tip for Hyderabad visitors.
Meter Chai in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is a coffee country where you must savor the filter coffee. You do get tea on the roadside stalls or bus stops here, but it is made in coffee style. The concoction of boiled tea is kept in a brass pot. When you order your cuppa, the concoction is put in a steel tumbler that has the milk in it. The tumbler goes up in the air as the mix is poured in the tumbler on other hand. Tea changes tumblers a few times before it reaches your hands. It feels as if the tea is being measured like the length of fabric.
In jest, we always say – One-meter tea please instead of one cup of tea 😊
Amrutulya Chai in Pune
Amrutulya literally means comparable to nectar. Indeed, for tea drinkers, tea is next to nectar only. In the streets of Peths of Old Pune, you are served tea in the bright shining brass kettle that is strained through cloth instead of a metal strainer. Your visit to Pune is not complete without tasting this version.
Ice Tea – New Age Cafes
Ice tea is a relatively new version of tea. Usually served at the new age cafes. I love lemon ice tea. Though it comes in all possible fruity flavors. On a hot summer day, this can be quite a refreshing drink to have.
Green/White/Black/Oolong Tea – Types of Chai to explore sometimes
These are usually the lightest possible teas you can have. Just put a teabag in a cup of hot water, allow it to brew lightly and your tea is ready. I usually have this version of tea when I am traveling and staying in hotels that do not serve my kind of tea.
These come in million flavors from Apple to Jasmine to Mint. Some flavors like Mango tea are beyond my understanding. Just go by your mood and pick the one you like, if you wish to experiment.
You get these strange flavors in flea markets in Goa. Also in similar tourist locations like Manali or Dharamshala and elsewhere.
This is the latest fad among foodies. This is made in a Kulhad that is heated enough for it to capture the flavor of clay pot in the drink as the tea bubbles inside it. Taste-wise, I can’t really make too much of a difference. It is more of an experience that is different and new.
Meri Wali Chai
This is the cup of tea you make at home. The one I am sipping as I write this blogpost. The ingredients are the same – water, milk, sugar, and tea leaves. But it is your proportion of all these, brewed to attain the perfect taste that lingers on your tongue. This is the one we return to after we have experimented and experienced all possible versions in the world.
On the road, the best places to have this favorite refreshment are railway stations, bus stops and outside colleges, and in the university canteens.
Which are your favorite Types of Chai in the world?