The local Gloria Jeans coffee shop serves up a very nice “Chai Tea”. It has not been heated over a cow dung fire, filtered to remove twigs and other impurities, nor made with a tin of condensed milk and a secret recipe of herbs and spices which are best not ask about. It all comes out of a clean machine and I have to say it tastes pretty good.
When it was first introduced to the menu I badly wanted to point out the repetition of meaning – the word Chai, as roughly simulated in the tea served up in the Gloria Jean recipe, has its origins in northern India. Though its roots go back to the Chinese where it is called cha. Interestingly the British military took “Chai” into its vocabulary and from there into the British community as “char” – exactly as the Chinese pronounce it. You will still hear the word in use in Britain.
I digress. Within the bowels of the old fort in the centre of New Delhi, where tourists rarely venture, and where we would have never visited except for the guidance of Nigel, we stumbled over a group of men and boys pondering the contents of a black, simmering pot. The moment we showed interest one of the lads started ladling out the contents, pouring it through a filter a few times. The others peered at it excitedly, jabbering encouragement at the rise and fall of the liquid. Eventually, and with a flourish, it was ladled into a tall glass and offered to us. It smelled glorious and I would have gladly partaken except that Nigel warned us off. The contents came, in part, from local cows and was known to create health problems, even when heated. We had no idea what had actually gone into the pot but as Nigel pointed out, the glass was filthy, and loudly advertising a bad dose of “Delhi Belly” – at best.
The liquid was no less than Chai. Made with local cow’s milk – there are plenty around. Supplemented by sweetened condensed milk. And all sorts of herbs and spices. And accompanied by an elaborate ritual with which to serve it. Carefully filtered of any street rubbish and presented to many oohs, ahhs and other encouraging sounds. Sadly, we did have to decline – but we caught something of the sacred ritual in the photograph here. The Chai is being dispensed through a filter from an exaggerated height – but which helped create a more frothy texture. They should consider a franchise!