I never thought when I came to India that I would find myself voluntarily drinking copious amounts of sweet, milky tea. But there is something about Indian chai that just takes hold of you. It’s not just the taste – as lovely as it is, especially when it contains a hint of ginger or cardamon. It’s more than that – it’s the little glasses that it is served in – always meticulously rinsed, or better still a tiny hand-made unglazed ceramic pot that you will throw on the floor at the end. You learn not to mind that this mini work of art will only be used once because you know that you are returning earth back to the earth, plus you are creating work for Indians who will just have to make more to cater for your increasing tea consumption habit.
It’s also because I get a front-row seat on Varanasi street life, thanks to the little wooden benches perched by the stall. Or if I’m really lucky I might get to chat to some friendly fellow sippers in my broken Hindi.
I guess above all I just love the whole process of making India’s caramel coloured drink. The fact that it is cooked in big old pots – either in open pans or, in this case, metal teapots – on simple coal fires, that give off this atmospheric smoke, just to add to the sense of theatre.
I get the feeling that this chai vendor has a lot of pride in his brew – if the row of gleaming teapots is anything to go by. Maybe I’ll seek him out next time I’m in Varanasi and, while I savour my cup of Masala chai, I’ll tell him that people all over the globe have now been able to admire his neat little chai stall.