Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of India


Tea Drinking Culture in India
Tea History of India
According to the Ramayana tea was called “Sanjeevani booti”. Although there are no scientific proof to say that the Sanjeevani plant is actually the Camellia sinensis it is clear that the Indians knew about tea at least at the same time Chinese were drinking it. When the Scottish explorer Robert Bruce visited India he saw native people enjoying a drink which was made by brewing leaves of a plant. He wanted to test what this plant was and asked for some samples. Unfortunately he passed away before he could fulfill this task. After seven years his brother Charles was able to have the leaves tested at the botanical gardens of Kolkata. It was then recognized as a variety of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis.
During the British rule Indians were encouraged to grow tea. In the early 1820s courtesy of British East India company large-scale cultivation started in Assam. Step by step tea cultivation spread from region to region. At the end of the century, Assam was the top tea producing area in the world.
Types of Tea consumed in India
India is almost exclusively known for their black tea. Three most popular teas from India are Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri. These are quite heavy, strong and deliciously aromatic. The Darjeeling is popular for its smooth aroma and light brown color; it’s called “champagne of teas” due to the colour. Assam is characteristically dark and have a sturdy taste whilst Nilgiri is flavored, highly aromatic and is a dark colour.
Almost all Indian tea is CTC variety that is “crush, tear, and curl.”
Although not as common as black tea, green tea is also consumed in India. The urban areas have tea rooms, tea shops and restaurants in which specialty teas such as iced tea and fruit flavored teas are served.
Every Indian region has created their own tea by adding various things to it. For example, North Indians customarily add milk to their tea and South Indians, add milk infused with spices. A tea shop is present in every corner of every city; in Delhi a sort of masala tea has become popular, named “Malai chai” served with cream (“malai”) on top of it. In Mumbai they have a tradition of drinking “cutting chai” or a tea filled only half of the cup. In northern India they use a clay pot to serve tea which is called “khullad”.
Tea Customs of India
Indians consume tea, 15 times more than they consume coffee. The word “chai” is used for tea and the man selling it in small tea glasses in busy cities is called “chaiwala” or literally the man with tea.
Indians take their tea with milk. However its method of preparation is different to the British technique. Whilst the British mostly use tea bags nowadays and add cold milk at the end, Indians add loose tea leaves to the boiling tea pot, and after it is brewed properly, add milk and sugar both to the same pot. When making masala tea, spices are also added. Once the tea is done, it’s strained off into separate cups.
When you step into a home you will be offered a tea and that will be the ultimate conversation starter.
In a given day, an Indian will consume more tea outside of home, than at home. This is mainly because of the abundance of tea rooms and chaiwalas selling tea in every nook and corner of the city. Posh restaurants offer tea in cups and saucers, and small tea shops give you a tiny glass filled to the brim.
Another reason why tea stalls are popular, is the socialization opportunity they create. Arabs sit around a table, while Indians stand around the tea stall, talking while sipping tea.
India is popular for numerous snacks and sweets; from vadai, samosa, aloo bonda, mawa cake to khasta kachori - a sort of a puff pastry and murukku Indians are Picassos of pairing snacks with their tea.
Tea, in India is one of the omnipresent traditions.
Tea ceremonies in India
India is the second largest producer of tea in the world and also the largest consumer. This’s proven by the fact that 70% of tea produced locally is consumed within the country itself. Indians are a true tea drinking community.
Regular tea consumption in India was started by the British. They had an ad campaign during the 1920s where tea was introduced to the Indians. India is one of the very few countries who always add milk to their tea. Their breakfasts are not complete without a strong milk tea. Generally they consume tea throughout the day if and when the time permits.
Tea is served to guests as a notion of hospitality and especially during celebrations such as Diwali and Thaipongal (Hindu New Year).
“Chai cigarette” is a habit found in big cities with a lot of IT companies where youngsters are employed. After long hours of working they will go out and have a cigarette while having a tea. In Bengal they have evening sessions known as “adda”. An adda is started and continued with tea served in small clay pots known as “bhad”.
Indians drink various sorts of teas during their myriad of celebrations. In addition to normal milk tea, they have masala tea, cardamom tea, ginger tea, cinnamon tea and, lemon tea as a refreshing drink.
Teaware of India
India is such a large country that their traditions and customs differ from region to region. This is true for tea as well. Their tea customs differ from area to area as do their teaware.
Due to the British influence Indians also consumed tea in tea cups with saucers and teapots. This was limited to the affluent few.
Today, a small glass is used to sell chai tea in tea stalls that are situated in the street corners. This glass is not similar to the one used by the Middle Eastern countries which is tulip shaped and has an outward rim. The Indian version is slanted with a narrow bottom and a wider top.
At home people use their own mugs to drink tea, but not to make tea, like the English do. Usually it is brewed in the tea pot itself which can be made in aluminum, metal or clay and that is poured into the mug with a sieve to leave out the tea leaves and any spices that were added to make it tastier.
Some parts of India use small clay pots to serve tea. These areas are known for their craftsmanship for various utensils including the “khullad” or the tiny tea pot.