I can’t imagine India without masala chai. I really cannot. Chai is a way of life in India; it is so deeply engrained in the culture and routine that the country would come to a standstill if chai were to be banned. Thankfully, there’s not the slightest possibility that chai would ever be banned in India considering that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, used to work as a ‘chai-wala’ (tea-seller). Recently, a video of a lady saying “hello friends, chai pee lo” went viral on the internet. In fact, chai is so popular that a tea-seller in Pune hit a record of earning 12 lakh rupees ($17,532) a month. Money may not grow on trees, but it certainly grows on tea-plants!
Drinking masala chai is an all-encompassing sensory experience. The aroma of blended spices can quickly flood an entire house. The comforting sentiment of chai attributes to plenty of deep, heart-to-heart conversations, giggle-filled gossip, business meetings, creative discussions and the perfect bit of ‘me-time’.
The streets of India are filled with both road-side ‘chai-wallas’ and plush tea-houses. This week, I wanted to find out whether money can buy the best masala chai.
1) The Taj Mahal Palace in Colaba is a 5 star heritage hotel which boasts of grandeur and luxury. A small pot of masala chai accompanied with shortbread biscuits cost 419 rupees ($6.12). Although the texture of it was incredibly creamy and rich, the flavour of the chai was bland, contrary to what one would expect of masala chai. The hotel is popular amongst international tourists, which could be the reason behind the mellowing down of the spices. Without the punch of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, mint, lemongrass or cloves, the essence of masala chai lost. The ‘all-chai-no-masala’ recipe was rather disappointing, which is why I have rated it 3/5.
2) I visited the franchise, Tea Villa Café, in Versova to try a mid-range priced masala chai. Tea Villa Café lives up to its name and has a whole menu dedicated to different types of teas. A pot of masala chai cost 130 rupees ($1.90) and is sufficient for two people. This masala chai certainly exuded aromas of cardamom and cloves, and the flavour of the black tea itself was very strong. Although lacking in a variety spices, this was a pleasant drink, and deserved a solid 3.5/5.
3) I finally tried out the road-side chai on Bandra Bandstand, which, surprisingly, stole my heart. At 20 rupees ($0.29), this cup of cutting-chai was an absolute delight to drink. Heavily infused with ginger, cardamom and cinnamon, this is the kind of tea that would brighten up one’s day. This road-side chai was slightly more expensive than the usual price because of its prime location. The average price for cutting road-side tea is between 6-10 rupees ($0.09-0.15). I can happily conclude that the simplest pleasures of life are not expensive.
Reviewing chai is extremely subjective as every household has its own combinations and permutations of masalas. Nothing beats home-made chai, and with a bit of experimenting, why not create your ultimate favourite masala chai?