The first known documentation of tea in India was in the Ramayana, one of the two Sanskrit epics of Hinduism. Research from later years show that tea was indigenous to the northern and eastern parts of the country, where it is largely cultivated and consumed to this day. Commercial consumption began with British colonization, which subsequently also made the beverage more popular.
While famous Indian teas in the world come from Darjeeling and Assam, Ayurvedic practices have also resulted in a variety of herbal teas. Adding holy basil, cardamom, pepper and/or mint leaves to tea among other herbs and spices enhances its ability to draw from the latter’s medicinal value. Adding milk and sugar to this concoction helps cloak the strong, sometimes bitter flavors.
Tea or “Chai” (in Hindi) is usually cooked from loose leaves and milk in India. Chai is tea with spices, depending on which region of the country it is made in. Some regional favorites include Masala Chai, Kadak Chai, Bombay Cutting-Chai, Kashmiri Kahwa, and Sulaimani Chai. In the north, Kulhad chai is popular, named after the traditional, disposable, handle-less clay cup it is served in.
“Chaiwallahs” are people who make and/or sell fresh tea all day, every day from their innumerable road-side stalls throughout the country’s nooks and corners. The most well-known chaiwallah is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hosted discussions over tea during his election campaign in 2014 to highlight the contrast between him and the opposition.
In recent years, the rise of urbanization and the café culture has led to a diverse growth in how Indians consume tea. Unsurprisingly, it is the most valued in the beverage market at about 180 billion rupees and is expected to grow steadily.
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