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Chai: A social beverage?

While documenting a collection of ads in “Chai Why?” archivist Philip Lutgendorf noticed that most popular culture posters contained an upper class Indian woman sipping tea. Tea was considered to be a “social beverage” to be enjoyed with sugar and milk. However, cultivation and consumption of tea was deeply tied to colonial history. The East India Company set up tea cultivation plants in North Eastern India, and we see that today in names like Assam tea and Darjeeling tea. Both the British and Indians were reluctant to drink tea when it was introduced, let alone make it part of their daily lives. We see the impact of posters and magazine ads that were initiated by the British to influence people of the Indian subcontinent to consume it (which means tea entered India only in the colonial period, so tea as an ingredient doesn’t share the same history as other ingredients in this exhibition). In this poster by the Calendar Manufacturing Company, we observe that the woman is looking directly at us, confidently holding a cup of tea and a biscuit. The pearl jewellery, the tin biscuits, a cup and saucer with her feet placed on a carpet with English floral design indicate a specific class and domesticity. In the masala tea recipe below, we observe that even a pinch of spices makes this social beverage a very personal one.

Masala Tea by Mayank Manish

“Tea is something we consume almost all through the day – more so during the lockdown! It’s a personal favourite beverage too. The biggest issue was that everytime I tried making it – I got a different taste! So the idea was to master the art of making good tea – consistently. One that has taste and is yet not too heavy (yes, tea can feel heavy at times too!). The idea was to try a recipe that can be enjoyed throughout the day and yet, does not taste monotonous!
So while I have picked one of the most simple recipes, it is the ability to enjoy a good cup of tea – everytime – that makes this experience special for me!”

List of ingredients

For 2 people
Time: 15 minutes

1 teaspoon Tea leaves (Blend ¾ normal tea with ¼ orange pekoe)
1 Clove
Pinch of Dal chini or Cinnamon (finely ground)
Pinch of Elaichi or Cardamom (finely ground)
Pinch of Kesar or Saffron
2 large cups Water
¼ cup Milk
Jaggery (as per your taste)
Most important – an exotic cup to enjoy the experience every time!


Start with boiling the 2 cups of water.

Add the home ground cinnamon & kesar.

Once the water is boiling, reduce flame and add the tea leaves.

Let the leaves give their colour (and hence flavour) to the water.

Add the milk and let the tea boil slowly. You will know when the light colour just starts turning dark and the tea leaves are opening up.

Add elaichi towards the end so that the flavour is at the top.

Add jaggery to your tea cups (not into the tea while making it).

Use a strainer to pour the prepared tea into your favourite cup and stir.

Serve and consume hot.

You can try variations such as adding some ginger, star anise or even rose petals at times.