Chai, cha, a brew, tea, a cuppa... whatever you call it, tea is big in our culture. We mock the UK soap opera EastEnders for always surrendering to tea in times of stress, but we Indians are the same. No sooner have you stepped into someone’s house and the familiar offer of ‘chai, pani?’ (Tea, water?) is made, before the familiar aroma of tea leaves, chai masala and steamed milk floats out of the kitchen.
So what is it about tea that makes it so special? Warming, comforting, sharing, soothing, caffeine boost – they’re some of the words various friends and family members came up with when asked. Indians generally enjoy our tea with milk and sugar. It’s not known how this taste developed, whether it originated during British rule or whether Indians passed on their love for cow’s milk to the British.
Add to that growing evidence that tea contains cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, and with the caffeine-free options of green and herbal tea growing in number and popularity, it’s no wonder we are drinking more and more of our beloved beverage.
For me, a freshly made mug of warmly spiced, slightly sweet Indian chai is one of life’s simplest yet most rewarding offerings. Non-tea-drinkers find this almost ludicrous, but only a true tea addict knows the comfort a cuppa can bring!
And now, unsurprisingly, India itself has a thriving tea tourism industry. Tea cultivation bloomed under the British Empire and now India is the world’s largest tea exporter. There are around 1500 different teas in the world, produced by 25 different countries including China, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. So it’s not surprising that tourism has followed suit.
Like the wine regions of Europe and the coffee plantations of Central America, India’s tea estates offer similar tours and holidays, with package holidays to Assam, Darjeeling in West Bengal and other renowned tea-producing regions like Munnar in Kerala, Palampur in Himachal Pradesh and Ooty in Tamil Nadu.
And why not? If you love wine, you visit a vineyard, beer lovers flock to breweries, so if you love tea, a holiday on a tea estate seems an equally logical and fun choice, learning about its heritage, how it’s grown and tastings. Often combined with yoga, spa or eco tourism, tea estates offer peaceful, relaxing stays amid jaw-dropping hillside scenery – not to mention the chance to binge on your favourite brew all day long...