Monday, October 29, 2007

New Article: Masala Chai

Today's new article is part one of a two parter on everyone's favorite Indian sweet drink, masala chai. Excerpt:


Masala chai dates back to over 5000 years ago (some say 9000), when a king created an herbal version in an Indian or Siamese court (or so the legend goes… I’m fairly sure that this is a myth, much like the Chinese tale of Emperor Shen Nong’s discovery of tea). It was an Ayurvedic concoction from the start and was considered to be a cleansing and vivifying remedy for minor ailments. Early on, masala chai was prepared in a variety of ways, served both hot and cold, and comprised of a wide range of spices. Recipes varied from town to town, neighborhood to neighborhood, and even home to home.* Many years later (in 1835), the British set up tea plantations in Assam. The black teas produced there seeped into masala chai recipes, and masala chai as we know it today (tea, sweetener, milk, and spices) was born. It didn’t approach its current popularity level until the advent of CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) mechanized tea production in Assam the 1960. CTC produces very inexpensive tea that infuses quickly and produces a strong flavor, making it perfect for masala chai in the Indian market. Chai’s popularity spread ‘round the globe, but it remains a cornerstone of Indian culture today.


Masala chai is a major component of Indian culture today, but it is ingrained in everyday life much like coffee in the US. The result is that outsiders see it as a big deal, while locals think of it as ordinary. (This reminds me of the time I made hummus for a friend from Tokyo and changed her whole worldview. To me, hummus is a common food, but to her, trying it the first time was a revelation.) Most people in India drink about four cups of masala chai a day. Many many take a break around 4PM for chai and snacks, usually fried samosas and/or pakoras, “farsan” (savory snacks from West India’s Gujarat region), and “nashta” (savory breakfast foods). There is a “family tradition” element to masala chai in India and neighboring chai-drinking countries. Much like that incredible recipe for… whatever… that your grandmother gave you and that you KNOW tops any other variation out there, people in and around India take great pride in their own recipes and feel that theirs is the only REAL way to prepare masala chai...

Read more about masala chai culture and ingredients on Vee Tea! Next week, I'll give you over a dozen of my own masala chai recipes. In the meantime, feel free to post YOUR favorite masala chain recipe here.

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