The comfort of chai

By Piya Mitra

chai1Some of my most cherished childhood memories are those of my grandmother’s tea estates, in the Dooars (foothills of Darjeeling) region of W.Bengal, sipping tea on the porch of the beautiful bungalow with a picture postcard view. Lush green tea shrubs cover the landscape, dotted with women workers picking tea leaves“ two leaves, a bud” with their nimble fingers and tossing them into the basket on their backs. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity of tasting the freshness of that tea, and breathing that beautiful aroma.

Another unforgettable memory is of a cold winter night, waking up to the jolt of the train stopping at a small non-descript train station and to the ever familiar strain of “Chai Chai, Chai Chai.” Sipping hot chai out of an earthen cup on a cold winter night was pure delight.

Lastly I remember myself as a preteen, peeking into our drawing room(Living room or parlor) to admire all the lovely ladies in their chiffon sarees  playing taash     (cards)/mahjong and sipping  tea in my mother’s fine bone china cups, the teapot covered in a tea cozy to keep the tea warm. The servants served cucumber and mint sandwiches, fresh baked Nankhatai biscuits(cookies), pastries and other mouthwatering snacks. Oh how I wished to grow up and take their place one day.

Chai is an intergral part of our Indian identity like, dal, chawal  roti or Bollywood. After all the   rags to riches story of the life of a poor “Slumdog” chai wala in a Mumbai call center just won an Oscar!

While the British may have their prim and proper “High Tea” we Indians have our version too and it’s a lot more fun and informal.

Alas! The Indian tea or chai party is a lost art here in the US. Our busy lives hardly permit us the luxury of sipping a cup of leisurely tea with our friends.

If you are a tea lover like me, why not throw a tea party? It’s a lot easier than cooking an elaborate dinner or lunch. A ladies tea and gossip session may be a fun way to relax and catch up with your friends, or a Karaoke and chai party promises to be a lot of fun.

There are two basic ways of serving chai. The Masala Chai  or elachi  Chai  is served on informal occasions. It is prepared in a pan with milk added while cooking  and poured directly into cups or mugs. The more formal tea is brewed in a tea pot and served along with sugar and milk.

Masala Chai

* 2 tsp loose CTC tea
* 1 piece of dry ginger
* 3 cardamom pods, crushed
* 3 whole cloves
* 1 piece of cinnamon stick
* Milk and sugar to taste
* 2 cups of water

Chop up ginger into fine pieces, and break up the cinnamon stick. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and then add tea leaves and all the spices. Let everything brew at boiling for 30 to 45 seconds. Remove from heat, then let steep at room temperature for another minute.

Strain out the tea and pieces of spice. Serve hot and fragrant, with only a touch of milk or sugar.

This kind of chai goes very well with Samosas, Pakodas, Chaats, Jalebis  etc.

Hot Darjeeling Tea

chaiThe best Darjeeling tea according to me is Makaibari So try it if you can find it. Of course any other brand will do too.

Take fresh water from the cold tap and boil preferably in a kettle, (electric kettles are really convenient as they boil water really fast and to the right temperature). Warm the teapot by rinsing out with hot water. Put one teaspoonful of tea leaf for each cup into teapot. Pour boiling water into it. Cover and wait for three minutes. Pour liquid tea from the teapot into cup through a strainer. Add milk / sugar to taste

Here are some recipes from my mother’s tea parties that go perfectly with the Darjeeling tea.
Nan Khatai biscuits (egg less Indian cookies)


All purpose flour 1 cup
Baking powder 1 tsp
Vanilla essence 1/4 tsp
Ghee/butter 1/2 cup
Powdered sugar 1/2 cup
Chopped cashews 2 tsps
Cardamom powder 1 tsp
Saffron 1/4 tsp ( soaked in 1 tbsp hot ) (optional)

Sieve flour and baking powder together. Add vanilla essence. Mix ghee and sugar till creamy. Add the flour mixture, the saffron and cardamom . Knead well and make into small balls. Flatten and place on greased tray. Dip a fingertip in water and dab on the centre of each ball of dough. Now press a few cashew bits on top of each circle of dough. Bake in a preheated oven for about 20-25 mins at 375 degrees.

Veg Club Sandwich

3 Sandwich Bread Slices
1tbsp butter
1tbsp mint chutney
1tbsp mustard
1tbsp tomato ketchup
Few cucumbers and tomato rounds
Few lettuce leaves
One potato boiled and cut into slices
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cheese slice or grated cheese
Shredded cabbage and beetroot for garnishing

Bread slices can be lightly toasted or used as it is. Spread butter and mint chutney on two slices. On another slice, spread mustard on one side and tomato ketchup on the other. On the bread and mint chutney slice arrange lettuce leaves and over it arrange tomato, potato and cucumber slices. Sprinkle salt and pepper. Over this place the mustard/ketchup bread slice. Over this place the cheese slice and arrange lettuce leaves over it and sprinkle salt and pepper. Cover this with the other butter/mint slice. Press the sandwich and cut the brown edges and cut into desired shapes. Arrange the sandwich in a serving plate and garnish with cabbage and beetroot shreds.

Hope I have inspired you to have a few friends over for some hot chai (Hot tea). The teapot is starting to whistle I am off to sip my next cup of tea.
Piya Mitra is a Bay Area event organizer. She can be reached at or through her website Elegant Eventz . She also blogs her favorite recipes and party ideas at

3 thoughts on “The comfort of chai

  1. Samson Koletkar

    Whats a day without a chai! I have a little tea party every now and then at work. I got so fed up of all the crap coffee and teas that we get here that I now make my own ginger+cardamom chai every morning and carry it to work in a 26oz thermos. I have a Malaysian and a French colleague that regularly share the tea. Every now and then my CEO, Biz Dev or someone else is around to join the party too. Oh and yes, I have kept 4 bone china cups at work to drink the chai in.



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