Posted in Kafevend Blog
Situated along the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, the north eastern Indian state of Assam is one the original places tea grew, along with northern Burma and the Sichuan and Yunna provinces of China. Unlike Ancient China, tea did not see much use among the Indian people as a drink, but rather as a herbal medicine. In fact, the widespread adoption of tea in India didn't occur until just six decades ago during the 1950s. Despite this late adoption, India is now one of the largest tea producing and consuming nations on the globe.
Whilst tea was present in Assam, it took the arrival of the British East India Company to transform India into the tea drinking nation that it is today. Tea was an important commodity in Europe and the Chinese, who held a virtual monopoly on tea, knew it. The BEIC began trading with China near the end of the 17th century, but as they and other foreigners were to discover, the Chinese government insisted that they only trade from a single port- Canton- and that a large cut of the money made through trade deals was to be given to the government each year. This had a knock on effect in the port, as the governor levied exorbitant taxes on the Chinese merchants who in turn charged foreign traders more for their goods.
The BEIC eventually became tired of dealing with the Chinese, and decided to find a way to cut out the middle man and produce their own tea. India was of course the site for this attempt at breaking the monopoly on tea. It was in Assam that they established their first tea garden in 1837, after acquiring the land from the local Ahom kings through means of a treaty. A decade later, tea production in the area was booming and by the turn of the century Assam became the leading tea producing region on the globe. India as a whole was the top tea producing country for over a century before China recently reclaimed the title.
Whilst the BEIC had succeeded in establishing an alternate source for tea, the Indians themselves weren't particularly keen on it. During the 1950s, the India Tea Board was faced with a surplus of tea. In order to shift it, they embarked upon a massive advertising campaign to increase the consumption of tea within India itself instead of trying to export it. They were successful, and the British method of making tea became the norm for many places in the country. Other places however, such as the north, had other ideas about how to use it- which is where Masala Chai comes in.
Meaning mixed spice tea, Masala Chai combines a number of spices, strong black tea, milk and sugar to create a drink that is not only popular within India but abroad aswell. Many spices are used in the drink in different ratios, including ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, star anise and fennel. There is no one ultimate recipe to work from with Masala Chai, with many families having their own spice mix and brewing method.
We here at the Kafevend blog- being British- have enjoyed the Masala Chai on offer from Tea India, which comes in a handy teabag (we do love the convenience of our tea bags and instant coffee). Whilst it can't compete with the experimentation available to someone making Masala Chai from scratch, it still provides a brilliantly flavoured drink, right from that initial hint of cardamom through to the burn from the black pepper and ginger.
Alongside their Masala Chai, they also have a Vanilla Chai which adds vanilla to the traditional mix of spices and Cardamom Chai, which adds an extra dose of the titular spice- perfect for any cardamom fan. Finally, they sell a pouch of loose black tea grown in Assam, which is useful for anyone looking to make their own Masala Chai. If you fancy having a go at making your own, Tea India have even been kind enough to provide a simple recipe on their website. After trying it out, why not have a go at adding other spices, changing the ratios and coming up with your own personal Masala Chai!