In South India, the day begins with a cup of filtered coffee. The process of making the coffee can be elaborate and may involve a percolator or could just be instant coffee. However in North India, Tea is the drink of choice.
Growing up drinking Coffee every morning, I never understood why one would like to drink Tea. In South Indian weddings, Coffee has a prominent spot. It is served by the barrels. Prepared with milk and sugar, it is as sweet as a beverage can be.
As I went away from home for my higher education, I came across Tea more often. Also in my opinion, Coffee is not made well in North India. After tasting a few disastrous cups of Coffee, I decided to try Tea. My first real cup of tea was at a famous Tea stall in Pune and I understood that I was served Marwari Tea. It had the distinct flavor of Cardamon and generous amount of sugar and the Milk probably had been boiled very long and had a thick consistency. Unfortunately, they serve very small amounts.
During my stay in Pune, I switched to Tea. I was a tall and lanky boy then and all those calories from sugar were easily burned. After studying business, I started working for a company in their Franchising operations. This took me to various towns across central and Nothern India. Along with it came the opportunity to try out the various version of Tea. In India, Tea is always served with Milk and Sugar. The variation in flavor is due to addition of various spices while preparing tea. As the types of spices and combination ratio changes, so does the flavor of the tea.
In Gujarat, they combine the necessary spices and grind them into a fine powder called “Chai Masala”. This traditional Masala powder is added by a small spoon full to Tea as it boils. The aroma differs based on the recipe of the “Chai Masala”. So basically, with this approach, one does not worry about getting the best tea because the Masala does the heavy lifting.
On the other end of the spectrum is the delicate flavor of the Darjeeling tea that stands on its own. Personally, I would consider it a sacrilege to add any masala to the Darjeeling tea. Its mild aroma and flavor deserves great respect.
Moving abroad later to the Middle East, I encountered the Cava which is a very strong Coffee. It is consumed in small clay cups the size of a shot. At one of my initial meetings in a government office, they poured the cava, I drank it but found it too strong. What I did not know is that you have to place your cup upside down or else they will give you a refill.
In Europe, I discovered that many people have their Tea black. I have been unable to do that so far. I prefer milk in my Tea. I also found out about Green Tea and its benefits and finally the Iced Tea with a dash of Lemon. My personal favorite is brewed hot tea made with a mixture of Cardamon seeds, Cloves , diced Ginger and Lemon Grass. I add these to the boiling water and then add tea. On rainy days in India, nothing beats savory deep fried snacks with a hot cup of Masala Tea!
Finally, on a funny note, in the North of India, people believe that Coffee constipates while in the South they feel that way about Tea!!