Chai Chai Coffee Coffee Chai

I’ve spoken before of my love for India and the eye opening experience that travelling for close to two years there was.

Food and trains feature strongly in my memories of working my way through the subcontinent; some good memories, some truly awful ones, but memories and experiences all the same.  Anyone who has spent any time on an Indian train will smile at the title of this post.  Chai wallahs – men and boys selling sweet, milky chai or coffee roam the carriages at each station with a little urn of chai, shouting Chai Chai coffeecoffee Chaaaaiiiii very loudly.  Some are more rooted to the spot with their chai for sale from a huge cauldron armed with a ladle, and a loud voice of course.  Railway chai is so sweet it makes you wince but there is nothing like it when you’re traversing the dusty, noisy world that is the Indian railway network, there really isn’t it.

Indian Chai is made by boiling up a pot of milk which is infused with strong black tea and spices including cardamon, star anise, cinnamon, white peppercorns, ginger, garam masala, sometimes a little sprinkle of saffron and lord knows how much sugar.  It’s served in small roughly formed un-glazed terracotta cups which are thrown away, smashed onto the rail tracks, after you’ve used them. I always thought this was a shame, the cups had a charm of their own.  I travelled right across the country by sleeper train and waking up to a little cup of chai is a true comfort on long, cramped and often very peculiar journeys.

I’m a tea lover and any request for ‘milk tea’ in India resulted for me in a cup of boiled milk, complete with a skin formed on the top and a tea bag.  I was sad that I couldn’t get a decent cup of tea in India, coffee yes at the brilliantly quirky Indian Coffee Houses but tea no.  It wasn’t until I travelled to Darjeeling in the foot of the Himalayas, in the height of the summer to escape the unbearable heat in Calcutta (Kolkatta now) that I got a decent cuppa.  The tea there was super strength, much stronger than I’d usually go for but it was a rare opportunity to taste tea at its source.  As I only found this tea in Darjeeling I stuck with the occasional cup of chai and kept my fingers crossed  that I would still have teeth when I returned back to Blighty.

When I lived in Edinburgh the cafe at the end of my road, Leo’s Beanery, served chai blended by the owner herself.  I had the enviable position of chai tester on a few happy occasions as she tinkered with the blend to get it authentic and right; spicy, milky and just sweet enough.  Boy did she get it right.  Happy days.

After writing about Indian food recently I was approached by a company called Pukka Tea who invited me to taste their own blend of herbal chai.  I have been approached by a fair few people offering me all kinds of food and bits and bobs, but this blog is important to me, I’m very precious about it and will only write about things that I would genuinely use in my own kitchen. Chai is most definitely one of them.  The village shop and cafe, where I live now, does a grand cup of Tetley and homemade cakes but most certainly not home blended chai, so dear reader, I get my chai fix wherever I can.

Pukka chai comes in instant tea bags which although they lack the charm of loose blended chai they’re much more practical.  The tea is Fair Trade, Soil Association approved, vegetarian friendly and contains no caffeine. It’s made with cinnamon bark, ginger, licorice root and green tea.  I’d never tried green chai before, it’s different, it’s refreshing, the kind of tea you would realistically drink at home. It’s a herbal tea made with water rather than milk, I thought that it would lack substance without the sweet milk but I was pleasantly surprised.  Pukka also make a black chai made with black tea leaves, this could be made into a milky chai.  The teas contain no sugar but there is a sweetness, much needed to temper the spices, that comes from licorice root.

Pukka draws inspiration from the Indian principles of Ayurveda – health and well-being.  They’re all round good guys too and to celebrate their 10th birthday (Pukka was established in 2002 by Tim Westwell and Sebastian Pole – an Ayurvedic practitioner) they’ve teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund.  In a bid to raise in excess of £50,000 for the WWF Pukka are donating 20p from sales of each box of their special edition Licorice and  Peppermint tea to the charity. This is the first part of a year long campaign to support the WWF’s global conservation work. Pukka have a campaign ‘Create a Beautiful World’ which invites the public to upload photographs of anything that makes their world more beautiful. The images will be collated into a film to be launched in November of this year.

This isn’t a one off gesture though.  Pukka annually invest in renewable energy and sustainable projects such as planting over 20 million trees and plants to grow registered organic herbs for their range of teas and herbal remedies. These create stronger local economies in areas such as rural India. They work collaboratively with local farmers on long term reforestation and regeneration programmes too. They deal with ‘growers, customers and consumers on a one to one basis to ensure that everyone profits from being involved with Pukka.’

Like I said, good guys, so I’ll raise a cup of chai to that.

You can find Pukka tea in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco and health food shops. A box of 20 tea bags costs around £2.25.
You can find more information on Pukka Tea and their WWF campaign ‘Create a Beautiful World’ here

Indian train journeys are sadly nothing like this fantastic Bollywood number. Well,  I never travelled on the roof so I don’t think they are.

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