A Pictorial History of Chai in India

Posted by sepoy on April 13, 2010 · 1 min read

Philip Lutgendorf. Chai Why? The Triumph of Tea in India as Documented in the Priya Paul Collection. Tasveer Ghar, Priya.

Yet the triumph of tea on the subcontinent (which continues, in the early twenty-first century, in some parts of South India that once exclusively favored coffee) was a slow and sometimes contested process, intertwined with and dependent on such phenomena as urbanization, improved rail and road transport and increased human mobility, the breakdown of caste and caste-related dining practices, and the rise of advertising and aggressive marketing. British interest in creating an indigenous consumer base for their export crop, reflected in the Indian Tea Cess Bill of 1903, did not immediately spark a great demand for tea, and was countered by the arguments of Mohandas Gandhi and other nationalists that the consumption of this "imperialist" and capitalist beverage (which required centralized large-scale cultivation and processing) was both physically and politically enervating for Indians (on the condition of tea estate workers, see, e.g., Piya Chatterjee's 2001 study, A Time for Tea).


gaddeswarup | April 15, 2010

Later on the article goes on to say "The most dramatic expansion of tea consumption—and the development of relatively standardized chai (produced by boiling tea leaves in a mixture of milk, water, and sugar, with optional spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, or black pepper)—only occurred after 1947 and the ensuing transfer of majority ownership in tea estates (which, significantly, were exempted from the sweeping land-reform legislation of the Nehru-Congress era) and in tea wholesaling companies from British to Indian hands." and using swadeshi symbols to promote chai. It seems that colonial attempts to promote tea did not go as planned and somehow the development took its own course through the changes of ownership, promotion by symbols closer to the users and commercial interests who saw the opportunities as they developed. Similar themes occur in Brian Larkin's Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria .