The single image that will remind me most of Kolkata is one of the disposable ceramic cups that you get served Chai in, vast numbers of these delicate pottery pieces can be spotted in almost any corner of the city. If a concentration occurs it’s a sure bet there is a popular tea stall nearby.
The sweet, occasionally spiced and scaldingly hot brew create the genuine chance of burning lips and fingertips. A real danger as these miniature tea servings come full to the brim, the thin ceramic shell of the disposable cups heat quickly, standing on a busy street it can be hard to find a space to put the cup down.
Boiled extensively with sugar and milk added, the tea isn’t steeped like westerners are accustomed to. It’s quite cool to take the time to watch the Chai Wallah make the brew, the ancient, dented and stained pot receives a vast flame underneath and the brown liquid boils. Topped up with some more water, a sprinkling more tea, some powdered or fresh milk, som sugar and a few dried spices the tea soon returns to the boil. The Wallah with his had enrobed scoops and pours the boiling liquid back into the pot, enabling the ferocious looking liquor to not boil over. Again and again he does this, until he believes the taste is right, I’m a novice at chai drinker but the crowd around me will certainly tell him if his brew is bad.
The full tannin flavour is rich and sweet and only lasts a few fleeting sips, once it’s cooled enough to drink. The experience cost a few pennies usually between 5-10 rupees per cup.
As I travel around India I will undoubtedly drink countless cups of chai the first experience of this wonderful liquor was in Kolkata, a memorable experience for me.