Chai, meaning 'tea' in Hindi, is thought to have roots that go back 5,000 years to a time when Indian Emperors would sip on an ayurvedic concoction of spices to promote energy and wellbeing. In fact this drink didn't contain tea when first consumed and was called "khada" instead of chai. Fast forward to modern-day and the representation of chai has shifted to what is now a globally recognised beverage. From a chai latte to dirty chai to sticky chai, there are many western adaptations of the authentically Indian chai, that can be found across cafes and restaurants globally.
Tea in India was only discovered by the British in the 1800's and was vastly cultivated and consumed between then and the time of India's independence in 1947. Legend has it that the Singpho Tribe of Assam introduced two Scottish explorers to the tea plant, which caused a revolutionary twist in tea trade in India and led to the establishment of tea plantations in the region. Indian tea production sky rocketed, however was still considered an expensive commodity for many people and therefore was not as accessible as it is today. It wasn't until William McKercher invented the CTC (cut-tear-curl) method of tea processing that tea became affordable for the masses, and not just reserved for the wealthy. CTC tea from India is among the best in the world.
In the early 1900's during the first world war the British-led Indian Tea Association ran aggressive marketing campaigns to push for local communities to consume more tea. This was driven by Britain's desperation for a boost in the economy to fund war efforts. Chai Wallahs (tea sellers) began selling chai outside rail stations and on the streets in India. The competition amongst the chai wallahs resulted in them getting creative with their authentic chai brewing and adding herbs and spices to bring a new dimension to chai. Milk and sugar was added to reduce the cost of chai, making it a cheap and easily accessible beverage to all.
Chai plays an integral role in Indian society, being a symbol of hospitality and ultimately a way of life. Most social interactions, from family gatherings to political conversations take place over a cup of chai. Chai is traditionally complex, with each household or teashop having their own family recipe. From being had out of a sikora, to a glass cup, to a saucer, made sweeter, more gingery, or milkier, no two chais are the same. Whether sipped or slurped, chai ultimately invokes the same feeling of comfort, energy and warmth.
From the streets of Kolkata, where Urvashi’s family originate, she has taken her authentic family chai recipe and neatly packed it into a pyramid infuser for accessible everyday drinking. Nana’s Chai so effortlessly transports us to the streets of Kolkata to be immersed in the rich cultural heritage of tea drinking in India. Imagine warm bustling streets, Chai Wallahs on every corner ladling sweet aromatic spiced tea into earthen clay cups, whilst sipping on the invigorating brew as you watch the world go by.