We’ve established that Indians love their kaapi.
But way before coffee became the pampered second child, there was another that enjoyed all the Indians’ attention - tea.
It’s no wonder that India was once referred to as a primarily tea-drinking nation. Today, it is the top 2nd tea-producing country in the world.
So how did chai become India’s favourite beverage before the arrival of coffee?
History of Tea in India
To give all the credit for India’s evolving tea industry to the colonists would be to entirely overlook the role that traditional medicine and regional tribes played in planting the seeds of an herbal beverage that could eventually evolve into a cultural emblem.
Records suggest that thousands of years ago, an Indian king crafted a recipe for tea owing to its medicinal properties.
However, other accounts suggest the introduction of tea in India occurred as a result of a Buddhist monk making his way from China and bringing the plant with him.
Either way, the history of chai in India dates back over 5000 years.
It was in the 1800s, during British rule, that tea plantations were established in Assam. The Assamese tribe of Singpho cultivated tea and was amongst the first in the country to develop a regular habit of consuming tea.
Apart from them, for several decades, tea wasn’t commonly consumed by Indians across the country. It was still considered a luxury reserved solely for the British and the upper class.
The year 1969 saw a shift in the way tea was produced in the country. Mechanised tea production was introduced, allowing tea to become more affordable and spread further among the commoners.
The Indian Tea Association is an organisation that played an important role in propelling the habit of tea drinking.
For most of the 20th century, tea enjoyed a monopoly in India before coffee production and consumption gained a foothold.
Benefits of Drinking Tea
There are several health benefits to drinking tea. The antioxidant properties of tea leaves are known to help fight against chronic diseases.
For years, tea has been prepared with spices like ginger and cardamom, which are gut-friendly ingredients that aid digestion and prevent bloating.
You may have also heard that chai helps one focus because of its caffeine content. Considering it has less caffeine than coffee, tea is the perfect drink for those who want an energy boost without consuming too much caffeine.
Tea brewed with spices can be great for your immune system. Make sure to pick a blend that has cloves, cinnamon, and ginger.
Lastly, chai transcends boundaries, making it not only a balm for your body but something that soothes your mind and soul through the aroma, the simple act of spending a few moments in solitude as you brew the tea, and fostering connections as it brings people together.
Chai vs. Coffee
The debate of which is better is probably one left alone. But let’s take a look at the differences between tea and coffee.
First of all, the differences between chai and coffee stem from the flavour profile. While tea has a more earthy, woody, and spicy flavour profile, coffee is bitter and robust. Both also have aromas that set them apart.
The next most important distinction between the two is the method of preparation. When brewing chai, the tea leaves are steeped in hot water or milk. Some methods of coffee also use a similar immersion technique for preparing the decoction, but typically, coffee is made by passing hot water through coffee grounds. Tea, on the other hand, is not made in such a way.
Coffee doesn’t come with as many health benefits as tea does. Tell that to a kaapi-lover, and they’d begin the argument of how coffee can be just as comforting to the mind as any beverage out there.
And finally, the caffeine intake. If you are trying to limit your caffeine intake in a week, drinking more tea than coffee might be the way to go.
While the term chai is the Hindi word for tea, tea is prepared differently in different parts of India. The beauty about it is that each of these methods of preparation brings something new in terms of culture and taste to the beverage.If you are looking to experiment with some tea flavours, check out the wide range of teas available on our website.