Lucknow loves its chai like no other city does; we live, breathe and exhale tea (read- the sour tea breath), and there's something peculiar about the obsession we have with it.
This magical potion can suit any situation and no matter how full you are, there's always room for chai. From embracing a warm cup of tea on a rainy day or a winter morning to give you that cozy and comfortable feeling to enjoying the strong flavour of tea on a stressful day, this drink is perfect for all occasions.
Luckily for us, this city has a lot of places we can bank upon for a cup of chai. The love we have for chai isn't something recent, it dates back to the era of Nawabs!
Ek cup Kadak Chai
Lucknow wakes up to tea. A number of outlets including Sharma Ji ki Chai, Shukla ji ki chai, Keval chai, Prem chai, this chai and that chai, have inculcated, what can rightly be called, a cult following. These outlets serve Lucknow its first dose of chai starting 6 AM in the morning and keep serving the brown elixir till late at night.
Random tea stalls around offices are always abuzz with people who want nothing more for their break than a warm cup of tea. No matter what the weather, even on the hottest day of June you'll find these connoisseurs sipping on their tea cup with an unmatched fervour!
Around evenings mohallas come alive with 'shaam ki chai'. Homemakers gather in front of houses with tea cups in hand and gossip away the eve-fall, spending a few guilty minutes away from the daily responsibilities, just sipping chai.
Come night, you can spot people enjoying the famous 'sham-e-awadh' and having a cup of tea. From a suited uncle sitting in his car and chatting to a pal over a cup of chai to random students who have been let off from coachings, it's beguiling how a small tapri (tea stall) can bring together people from different walks of life.
Yet the question remains, what makes us this thirsty for chai? Is it because we've never found a beverage better than chai or is it because we don't give anything else a fighting chance?
The answer to this perennial question lies within Lucknow's very rich heritage.
The Nawab and the Englishman
The nawabs of Lucknow were known for being the connoisseurs of fine tastes. The royalty liked any and every one of its meals to be tweaked especially for them and fine-tuned to their specific taste. They were famous epicures and poets who had a taste for finer things; hence, they left a significant influence on the culture and eating habits of the region.
Floral spices were one of the most prominently used ingredients in the Awadhi cuisine and they were soon used in all sorts of dishes including beverages. Saffron and cardamom found their way into the classic "thandai" as well as the hero of our story-tea.
While floral cardamom and saffron flavoured creamy milk-tea flourished under the nawabs, Awadh was soon introduced to a whole new type of tea by the British.
The English style, where the milk and the tea leaves are simmered separately, found its way into the streets of Lucknow and it gave birth to a phenomenal tea culture. Lucknow relished tea and enjoyed the slow paced evenings which were filled with leisure, laughter and calm - the popular Sham-e-Awadh.
Nukkad-Nukkad ki chai
Coming straight from valleys in the North-East, tea has been a big part the Indian culture. Lucknow and its love affair with tea is an old one.
Today, we find slow simmering teas everywhere we look, every roadside stall, every shack and every big-time restaurant offers the beverage and a nice cup never hurt anyone.
Lucknow loves its teas so much we made "Sharma Ji ki chai" a cultural phenomenon. People dot the cramped lanes of Sharma and sip on tea like they're sipping on air. Lucknow crowned tea the queen of its heart and small tea shops flourished one after the other.
Today tea shops such as Keval, (who is our favourite by far, the frothy milk is an entire different ball game) Shukla and Prem have created a cult like following, with crowds of people gathering in front of their shops. Even the most random tea stalls are abuzz with activity at 3 PM in the afternoon.
Lucknow is a passionate city; we fall in love with things and we make it an obsession. This is the thing about our city, when we love, we love with a burning passion and that is how we have dealt with tea.
Give a Lucknowite a good cup of tea at 6 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon or 12 at night and you'll find your way into their hearts. Chai is more than just a drink, it is an emotion so drink chai often and drink it with passion.