What’s the first thing people begin their day with? Universally, it’s a hot cup of tea. No wonder the world’s most popular non-alcoholic beverage is tea. In India too, a habitual cup of ‘Chai’ is more than a beverage. It’s something that unites Indians from different parts of the country. Right from the sophisticated to the rustic, North Indian to the South Indian, everybody loves to savour its flavour, brewing them in their own isshtyle!
One can never be lonely at a tea stall. Somebody is bound to ask you the time, or the state of life or for that matter; the state of the nation, which you must be prepared to answer, eloquently. Often, chai is an excuse to unwind, to catch up with friends, start a conversation or even greet someone. No matter where you are or what hour it is – if you are craving for one, you’ll definitely find a chai ki dukaan every few kilometers. Ahh, the pleasure of dunking a Parle G in chai and how it inevitably sinks even before you could savour the gooey bit! Indeed, chai is nostalgia to many. Who wouldn’t love sipping on a steaming cup of chai at a Tapri or dhaba on a rainy night, on a cold day of winter or simply anytime? So here’s a must-try list of unusual chais from different parts of India.
1. Gur Gur Cha from Ladakh:
When nerves freeze and hands shiver, there’s nothing more comforting than a hot cup of tea. But at 3500 metres and above, even the spiciest, strongest or hottest cup of tea would fail. That’s when a warm cup of ‘Gur Gur Cha’, also known as Butter Tea comes to rescue. The term Gur Gur came from the sound made by the churning vessel it’s prepared in. But wait, this isn’t your ordinary chai with tea leaves. Instead, this one’s a heady concoction of yak butter, milk, salt and an infusion of herbs, Chathang leaves or Yamdal bark, depending on its availability. An average ladakhi can effortlessly consume about thirty cups of gur gur cha in a day to beat the cold. This cuppa energises your body, heals chapped lips and keeps you warm in the coldest of weathers. So next time you shudderrr…say gur gur!
My recommendation: Take the first left before Moti market and start walking down the gully. Ask a local for gur gur cha and you will be lead to a nondescript stall – one of the best places to have gur gur cha! Second closest stall would be the one run by a Tibetan aunty, right at the Manali – Leh taxi stand.
2. Kahwah from Kashmir:
When in Kashmir, don’t be surprised if you are welcomed with a cup of kahwah. It’s a traditional drink made with green tea leaves, Cinnamon bark, Cardamom pods, rose petals and the most exclusive spice of this region – Kesar or Saffron. On special occasions, the kahwah is brewed with blanched almonds, pistachios or walnuts. Traditionally prepared in a brass kettle called samovar, it is served to guests in the morning or after a traditional wazwan.
3. Sheer Chai from Kashmir again!
It’s easy to spot a group of Kashmiris, chatting, at ease holding a steaming brass khos with the edge of their shawls, sipping sheer chai after their long chores and toils in the kitchen. Also known as noon chai, this pink beverage is a concoction of pahari tea leaves, milk, green cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, black peppercorns, poppy seeds, saffron, salt and baking soda. Though, on special occasions, blanched almonds and pistachios are added to give it a rich flavor. Often served with a dash of malai on top, it’s sheer joy indeed!
4. Tirku Cha from Spiti:
Spiti? Sounds unfamiliar? Well, Spiti is a cold dessert located in the north-eastern lap of Himalayas. The desolate landscape of Spiti can be irrigated only by the melting snow water and Seabuckthorn grows wild, thriving by the riverside in sunny arid zones. This region is blessed with Tirku or Seabuckthorn in abundance. This pale orange local brew Tirku cha, also known as Charma cha in some villages is prepared with an infusion of Seabuckthorn, its peels and water. It has a tangy flavor similar to ginger lemon honey tea, and is very refreshing. Not to mention very healthy! So next time you find yourself in Spiti, try it.
P.S. The brand Tsering Tirku tea by Spiti Ecosphere is quite famous there!
5. Masala Chai from anywhere!
Last but not the least, this all time favourite tea deserves a mention. Across India, this heady blend of ginger, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and black tea leaves with milk is crucial to a common man’s daily life. And the best part is, every chai wala or household brews it their own way, which makes its taste unique to each. After all, who doesn’t want little bit of masala in their daily lives? So say “statue” to your schedule and head to the nearest tapri!