All over India, life slows down when it’s time to sip that customary cup of chai

Nothing like it.
Nothing like it.
Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
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A look at India’s favourite hour of the day—teatime—around the country. Looking at its omnipotence in the Indian geographical and cultural landscape today, one would scarcely believe that tea wasn’t a popular drink in this country till even 200 years ago. Photographers from all over India were asked to show what this hour, where everyone slows down to enjoy the last few dregs of the evening sun with a hot beverage and an indulgent snack, looks like in their town or city.

The restless kettle. The watchmaker next door says Mumbai’s Café Delight has been around since the “English days.” There is a kettle at the back, where the stove is always alight and the tea forever brewing. Cutting chai is ordered with conversations on economy and government policy on the side. When they saw the photographer capturing ‘chai time,’ she was promptly offered a cutting chai and invited to join the conversation.
Image: Juhi Sharma
A sip for the spirit. Monks conducting a holy recital in Leh, Ladakh, take a break at a home. Traditional tables called Choktse are laid out to serve them butter tea, biscuits, and Thukpa.
Image: Pankaj Singh
Class apart. Tasting the Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe at a tea garden in Darjeeling.
Image: Sheena
Suspended animation. The tea shops in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, open at around 5am and stay open late into the night, often beyond midnight. There’s always tea and milk simmering on the stove. The chap who does the pouring ends with a flick of his wrist, leaving a long trail of tea suspended in the air for one glorious, theatrical moment. A glass of tea costs Rs8 and “special” tea costs Rs10.
Image: Vinay Aravind
India-Tea-Old Delhi
Never too old for tea. At Haji Mohd. Hussain’s Chicken Fry Shop, the proprietor and his grandson prepare for a long evening ahead. There’s an easy banter between the two; it’s easy to see how food transcends generations. And yes, in Old Delhi, people wait their turn to eat fried chicken, even at 5pm!
Image: Kunal Chandra
Neighbours rush to Thakar C Bhai’s Keshod home in Gujarat’s Junagadh district, to hear his predictions for rain this year. He is the “drought man,” a traditional forecaster known to accurately predict rainfall and harvest. Divesh, the grandson, pours tea into saucers as the men listen intently.
Image: Pankaj Singh
Family time. Tea with my grandmother in Pune must include snacks. Figs and blue cheese for this gluten-free girl.
Image: Sheena
One for the road. Nunthala is a small, colourful village in Ooty, ahead of Lovedale. The photographer usually stop here for chai after the day at college, or on her way back from a shoot. Lovely chai and the best samosas and bhajjis one could ask for; perfect for the weather in Ooty.
Image: Punya Arora
On the outskirts of Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, farmers take a break from harvesting paddy. Noon chai, typical to Kashmir, is salted tea, usually eaten with the local bread called girda or lawasa. The older folks like to carry their hookah around, and a small firepot with burning coal, to keep themselves warm. The fire pot is seen nesting in a basket made from Kashmiri willow that insulates the earthen pot inside.
Image: Sajad Rafiq
The ultimate adda. Dating back to the 1800s, Albert Hall on Kolkata’s College Street was later renamed Indian Coffee House in 1947. More than a cafe, it is a cultural hub. It has long been the regular hangout spot for students and the meeting place for intellectuals and aspiring artists, witness to friendships and courtships, personal and political debates. The Indian Coffee House has a range of coffees and snacks on offer, including the famous black coffee infusion, sandwiches, chops, cutlets and rolls. Coffee shops like Cafe Coffee Day and Starbucks may dominate the market, but in Kolkata the charm of Indian Coffee House remains untarnished.
Image: Pratik Dey Chowdhury
Three’s not a crowd. In the old part of Kerala’s Kannur town, three friends enjoy a cup of tea with “kadi” or snacks under the evening sun near a tea shop overlooking the Mappila Bay.
Image: Aysha Tanya
In Shillong, Meghalaya, a romantic evening often means a cup of rich black tea accompanied by some soul-stirring slow food: here, freshly made fluffy Putharo (rice pancakes), from a local baker named Judy, and a sinful bowl of spicy dohkhu (beef offal stew) made by the photographer’s mother-in-law.
Image: El Dhar

This post first appeared on goyajournal.com. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.