"Chai" in India comes in many hues of brown (or pink!), densities and flavors - just like Indian food; it varies in the ways it is served, poured, how it is made and the ingredients used from North to South, East to West. ⁠Not many may know it also varies in the ways it is consumed too. 

Irani Chai is iconic in Hyderabad and has been part of the city's culture for over a century, which we had a chance to try on our last Rural Escape in Telangana. The Iranian migrants have set up Irani Cafes in the city, and the tea served here came to be known as Irani Chai. Tea in Iran is usually drunk black but the irani chai of half decoction and half milk represents the wonders and deliciousness of evolving and combining cultures.

The dum process

As opposed to traditional Indian chai, where the tea leaves and milk are boiled together, Irani chai prepares the tea and milk boils in separate containers. Here the strong decoction of infused tea dust and sugar is kept on a cooking technique called dum, which basically means it is sealed and airtight so the flavours concentrate within the pot.

Irani Chai apparatus at Hotel Nayaab in Hyderabad, Telangana brewing for hours with dum method. Photo: Matylda Grzelak

The milk is reduced and boiled for a few hours separately till the sugars caramelize creating a nutty flavour and giving the it a slightly pink hue. It also thickens gaining a more creamy, velvety texture to it.⁠ Green cardamoms or ginger are often added to make it more flavourful.

Pour and sluuurp!

Once the decoction and reduced milk is mixed in a perfect proportion (usually half and half) it is poured into cups. The Chai's served in the city predominantly come in a white ceramic tea cups on a saucer. Forget the fancy, and look at utility. The saucer becomes the "cup". Lets not forget the Chai - brewed for a few hours comes out piping hot! To cool it down, the traditional way to drink it is to pour it in a saucer (referred to as 'rakabi') and sluuurp! from it. ⁠Many claim that you enjoy it that way more. Perhaps so as with wine - the aerating helps release flavor and aromas. ⁠Fun fact, originally, that was the true purpose for saucers in general, and it was widely socially acceptable to slurp tea from them. Something the world long forgot about it seems making saucers inferior - only mere supporters of the cup.⁠

Our General Project Manager - Matylda Grzelak - slurrping from the saucer, the proper, Irani Chai traditional style. #likealocal Photo: Food Forward India