Indian beverage called ‘chai’ has countless variations and a huge fan base spanning all around the world. But, do you know that it was British who set up black tea plantations in Assam in 1835? Later, Indians have created their own versions of it, giving it a totally different form by adding milk, sweetener and spices and an Indian spiced tea was born. This experiment proved to be so fruitful that even foreigners became ardent fans of ‘chai ki chuski’.
Tales behind Tea of India :
History of spiced tea began several thousand years ago in the royal courts. There are different views about its origin, some people are of the belief that it originated some 9000 years ago and some say that it has Thai origin. At one point it was so expensive that only kings and royals could afford to have it once or twice a day.
It is said that in the beginning Ayurveda had its therapeutic value more in mind. Mixing of herbs and spices in tea had the same purpose. It was taken as a cure for cold and cough. It was the time when the beverage did not contain any tealeaves and it was totally caffeine-free.
If literary records are to be believed, history of tea dates back to 750 BC. The time when tea was grown in Nilgiri Hills only. Another interesting legend says that tea drinking in India began with a Buddhist monk who lived some 2000 years ago. It is believed that this monk spent as many as 7 years without sleeping and contemplating about life and teachings of Buddha. He became the founder of Zen Buddhism. When he was in the 5th year of introspection, he was about to sleep. It was then, when he took some leaves from a nearby bush and chewed just to keep himself awake and focused. Those leaves were the leaves of wild tea plant. For a long time, tea used to be a dark fluid only sans milk, sugar, any herbs or spices.
It was in the 16th century that the people of India prepared a vegetable dish that made use of oil, garlic and tea leaves. The boiled tea leaves were taken out to prepare a drink that later came to be called as ‘Tea’. For several years together, tea in India had just medicinal value but nowadays it is a morning ritual in every Indian home and tradition of serving this guests.
How a Spicy Flavour of the Tea Came Into Being ?
Tea plants may have grown wild in the Indian state of Assam since the ancient time but historically Indians have viewed it as an herbal medicine which has nothing to do with recreation. Even the ‘masala chai’ or spiced tea came into being for the purpose of its medicinal value for treating cough & cold. It was Karha in the beginning which used to be a dark fluid containing herbs like basil leaves, ginger etc. and several spices like cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper etc. It would be apt to term spiced tea as grandmother’s tea. Granny is a traditional caretaker of any Indian household. It is believed that when any member used to fall sick at home whether from cough and cold or from stomach ailments or digestive problems, granny’s used to brew a blend of seeds, herbs and barks as a tonic to boost immunity.
How Did British Come Into Picture?
The British developed an expensive habit of drinking the Chinese tea. It became an addiction for them with passage of time. However, they wanted freedom from the ultra expensive Chinese tea and it was this reason that they established tea plantations in Northeast part of India. Their marketing plan worked well as India became the largest producer and consumer of tea. Then the Granny’s spice decoctions in India gave birth to the spiced tea. Milk and sugar began to be a part of this tea and a tastier version of it evolved eventually.
What is Spiced Tea? What all it contains?
It is flavoured tea beverage that is a mixture of aromatic Indian herbs and spices. Needless to say why it smells great! So it is brewed black tea mixed with aromatic, spices, herbs, milk and sweetener. Pods of green cardamom, ground ginger, black pepper, ground cloves, cinnamon and basil leaves are used in spiced tea.
In most of the Eurasian languages, tea is called chai. It is said that the word ‘cha’ originated from Persian and is known as chay and that word in turn has come from a Chinese word cha. On the other hand English word tea has come from Chinese teeh.
When Did Masala Chai Become Popular in India?
In 1960s Masala Chai became popular in India. It was the time when an automated form of tea production known as ‘CTC’ (Crush, Tea, Curl) made ultra-expensive black tea affordable to Indian masses. The tea has a bold and tannic flavour and hence it gave a creamy flavour to the spiced tea. It is due to this taste enhancing quality of CTC that has made it a staple diet in most India places.
Interesting Variations of Spiced Tea: