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It's A Chai Chai World!

Last updated on: May 24, 2023 11:53 IST
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Tea is made in hundreds of different ways in India alone.

There's the yak butter tea you will find in the Himalayas. And the Kashmiri kahwa whose votaries swear by it.

Much of the Hindi heartland drinks milky, sweet chai, spiced up with adrak and elaichi.

Bengal prides itself on its special concoctions of tea that differ home to home.

IMAGE: Inside Gulmarg's Igloo Cafe, constructed from snow and ice, tourists sample piping-hot Kashmiri kahwa.
Photograph: Sanna Irshad Mattoo/Reuters

International Tea Day was recently celebrated on May 21 as per the United Nations calendar -- although other parts of the world celebrate it on December 15 -- and it's a good time as any to collect a few facts about chai and try a few recipes.

The UN marks this day for the simple reason of bringing awareness for the industry, and the culture and history of the drink, so that eventually that leads to both sustainable cultivation and manufacture of tea that will benefit tea workers both in factories and gardens, via fair trade practices, price subsidies and more.

The tea-growing fraternity are mainly the nations of India, China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Japan, Iran, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey in Asia and in Africa, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Uganda and Tanzania. Argentina is also a major tea grower.

While India and China are the largest tea-producing nations, Turkey is by far and away the biggest consumer of chai, called rize çayı in Turkish, with 3.12 kg tea drunk per head in 2022, followed by Ireland next and then the UK and in fourth place Pakistan.

Morocco, Iran, New Zealand, Chile were also in the top 10. China was at 21 and India not in the list of the top 55 chai-drinking nations according to the latest figures from Statista.

After water, chai is the most popular drink in the world. Coffee apparently comes third and then orange juice and beer, according to one survey.

IMAGE: Britain's then Prince Charles has his tea, served in beautiful china, on the terrace during a visit to the Theatre Royal in London.
Photograph: Tim P Whitby/Pool via Reuters

Even if India is not one of the largest consumers of tea, it is our national drink and we probably have the most tea shops in the world, with one at every chowk/corner in every city, town, village. They hawk the most varied cups of tea through homegrown creative marketing. More important is the gyan and facts of life you can pick up at chai stall.

A recent WhatsApp forward: 'On my morning ride today, I saw a tea vendor with the sign: 'Chai GPT. Backed by AI. Apparently, it was Great Pot of Tea. Backed by Adrak and Ilaichi'. 

IMAGE: Across the world, another elderly gent has tea by the side of the road during a snowfall in Kabul.
Photograph: Ali Khara/Reuters

Have you sampled the types of tea that sell at our chai dukaans or is served in our homes? Like pudina chai in Rajasthan. Tulsi tea in Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Kesar chai in Hyderabad. Irani chai in Mumbai. Lal cha in Sikkim and the North East.

IMAGE: In October 2022, folks close to the battlefield in the recently retaken Kupiansk region of Kharkiv Oblast in Ukraine drink tea and toast the bread the military brought to them outside their homes for safety.
Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Go ahead and try making Durga Shakti Nagpal's recipe for Masala Tea. Or Bethica Das' Masala Ginger Lime Tea.

IMAGE: A Turkish child from Iskenderun drinks tea while reading a book on a docked cruise ship that serves as a temporary shelter for victims of the deadly February 2023 earthquake.
Photograph: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Attempt Ruby Rose Tea, a recipe courtesy the Taj Mahal group of hotels, which is a delicate mix of Oolong tea leaves and dried rose petals.

IMAGE: Rani Khan, a transgender woman who teaches the Koran at Pakistan's first transgender-only madrasa, prepares morning tea at her home in Islamabad.
Photograph: Salahuddin/Reuters 

Tea sommelier Radhika Batra Shah offers a preparation of Darjeeling Black Rose Petal Tea.

Raw mango is the freaky addition to the ingredients of Mango and Green Tea Infusion by Anamika Singh of Anandini Himalaya Tea.

Masala Tea Martinis, by Novotel Chef Avinash Kumar, are a Great Indian Ending to a day.

IMAGE: Iraqi men drink tea as they cool off in front of an air cooler during the summer heat in Baghdad.
Photograph: Saba Kareem/Reuters

Here's a recipe for one of India's finest chais:

Kashmiri Kahwa

Serves: 4


  • A few strands kesar or saffron + extra for garnish
  • 3-4 lavang or cloves
  • 2 pieces green elaichi or cardamom
  • Honey to taste, about 3 tsp
  • 1-inch piece dalcheeni or cinnamon
  • 4 tsp green tea
  • Generous pinch dried rose petals
  • 7-8 almonds, thinly slivered or 3-4 walnuts, chopped
  • 5 cups water


  • In a mortar and pestle roughly crush together the spices, except the kesar.
  • In a saucepan bring the water to a boil with the crushed spices and the kesar over medium heat.
    Then add the tea leaves.
    Let it brew for a minute or two.
    Add honey and mix.
  • Serve hot in small glasses garnished with saffron and nuts.

Photographs curated by Manisha Kotian/

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