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The Hindu
The Hindu
Rishabh Kochhar

The alluring Nagori tea

The two things that transcend all social mores and unite India are chai and cricket. A cup of chai, not tea, can bring together people from all strata of society. With countless varieties of tea ranging from the kadak chai to the fancier chamomile tea that I drink every night before going to bed, it would not be wrong to call India the land of tea. Recently, I came across a video of celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor preparing a mouth-watering cup of Nagori chai. It brought back countless memories from my time in Mumbai, where I fell in love with the rich, creamy cup of tea that became my constant companion while navigating through business school against the backdrop of incessant rain.

Found mostly in and around Mumbai, Nagori chai is milkier, creamier, and sweeter than others. Doing away with condiments, what hits one’s taste palate is a rich brew that leaves you wanting for more. Characteristic of the Nagori community, the brew has a very unique history. Originally from Nagaur in Rajasthan, the Nagori community is said to have earned its livelihood in the marble business and dairy farming. Gradually, some members of the community decided to widen their prospects, and moved to cities such as Bombay, while some moved to the Sindh region of Pakistan after Partition. The community started selling milk and curd wherever they migrated, and soon the tea-making business followed. It is this Nagori milk that distinguishes Nagori chai.

While regular tea is made with pasteurised milk, Nagori chai is made with fresh cow milk, giving it a richer, creamier taste. Today, Nagori tea stalls can be found in almost every part of Bombay. If North Indians swear by chai and pakodas (fritters), Bombay has an answer to that — the superior combination of Nagori chai and bun maska.

Dipped in the creamy tea, the simple buttered bun is transformed into a heavenly mouthful of goodness that is both sweet and salty at the same time, and melts in the mouth, leaving you wanting more. And if it is raining, the cup of Nagori chai is best enjoyed with a loud slurp to let everyone know that you are on cloud nine.

Interestingly, I share an eccentric relationship with tea. In Chandigarh, coffee was considered to be a fancier drink than tea, and the only coffee I got at home was a very diluted frappe, mainly to make me drink milk. Cafes were a rarity, and as a child, I was strictly banned from drinking coffee unless it was the surreptitious cup of cappuccino served after dinner at only the most lavish weddings. As I left home to study engineering, I quickly flocked to the hitherto forbidden fruit of coffee. The few cups of tea that I tried were insipid, until I tried Hyderabad’s iconic Irani chai near the Charminar. This was closely followed by my first cup of Nagori chai at a stall outside my business school.

Today, I drink tea only if it is a freshly brewed cup of Irani chai, ginger tea, or Nagori chai; otherwise I prefer getting my caffeine-fix from a no-nonsense cup of black coffee. In Bengaluru, Sanjeev Kapoor’s video recipe not only brought back buttery-sweet memories from my college days, but found me donning the culinary hat temporarily. Putting my heart and soul into making myself a cup of Nagori chai, my Sunday was well spent.

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