which type of tea reigns supreme, is Desi tea better than English?
For centuries, chai or tea making has been a cherished craft among Asian families.
A perfectly brewed chai with spices and sugar is an indulgently exotic escape from daily toils.
The British are also well attuned to tea drinking, having turned it into a regular pastime, where an assorted array of tea varieties is enjoyed with other sweet and savoury finger food treats.
But for those British Asians who are able to appreciate both the art of English tea and Desi chai, which type of tea reigns supreme? Is Desi tea better than English?
DESIblitz explores the most popular English and Desi tea varieties around.
Top British Teas
English Breakfast ~ English Breakfast Tea is one of the more popular type of teas in Britain.
Originally invented in Edinburgh, the tea is actually a blend of several different black tea varieties from India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malawi and China.
Twinings English Breakfast Tea is one of the more popular varieties. It has an amber colour to it with a rich source of antioxidants.
In general loose tea is thought to provide a better flavour of tea, as tea bags are ground more finely and can leave a bitter taste.
Earl Grey ~ Earl Grey is commonly recognised to be a posh type of tea that is famously enjoyed among posh people.
Staunch Earl Grey drinkers believe that the tea should be enjoyed without any milk or sugar, and with a slice of lemon.
It is actually a blend of black tea and the oil of a bergamot orange rind. It was discovered by an English aristocrat called Charles Grey.
Earl Grey has also been linked with many health benefits. It is known to improve digestion and keep you regular.
It is also great for your teeth because it contains fluoride which fights cavities and decay. It is also a great source of antioxidants that can stem cancer and other diseases.
Because of its citrus element, Earl Grey has also been linked to weight loss which is why adding a slice of lemon works much better than cream or sugar.
Tea from Assam is a popular tea variety in the UK. It has a rich, amber colour and a strong malty taste. It is the perfect cup for the early morning.
Here is the ‘correct’ way to make English tea, according to the English Tea Store:
- Use loose tea when brewing in a teapot, as this will allow the tea to circulate and brew better.
- Boil fresh cold water in a kettle and fill into a warm teapot which contains one teaspoon of loose tea for each person.
- Allow to brew for 3-5 minutes. Any less will not give you the full flavour of the tea, while steeping for longer can make it bitter.
- If you are making tea in a cup with a tea cup, then brew for only 1 to 2 minutes.
Traditionally, milk was always poured first to protect the fine bone china cup – so whether you wish to add milk before or after is entirely up to you!
Top Desi Teas
Desi tea or chai has been a pastime that is enjoyed from generation to generation across South Asia.
Traditionally, Desi tea is cooked within a saucepan, where water is boiled with spices, milk and any variety of black tea.
Because chai is such a sacred activity in many Desi households, preferences of Desi tea vary greatly.
Some add spices like cardamom, aniseed and cinnamon for an exotic kick that perfectly the black tea leaves.
Others prefer a higher milk quantity than water, resulting in a heavily creamy tea that is perfect for cold days.
Masala Chai ~ Widely enjoyed across the Indian subcontinent, the origin of masala chai, or spiced tea, is an interesting one.
Masala chai actually goes back thousands of years. Traditionally, it was used for medicinal wellbeing, and used to contain a lot more spices.
The eldest woman of the household (usually the grandmother) would brew a blend of spices together in the early morning.
This hot masala drink would be a natural cure for all ailments and colds, and it actually contained no tea at all.
It was only with the arrival of the British to India, that tea leaves, milk and sugar were added to make the masala chai as we know it today.
Here is how to make Masala Chai (recipe adapted from Mighty Leaf):
- 4 black peppercorns
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 6 cloves
- 1 inch ginger root, sliced and peeled
- 1 tbsp. loose black tea or 2 black tea bags
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- To make, put all the spices together into a saucepan with water and bring to boil.
- Cover the pan and let the spices simmer for about 5-10 minutes on a low heat.
- Return to a boil and add tea. Brew for 3-5 minutes.
- Add milk and sugar and stir over a low heat for several minutes.
- Strain into cups and serve immediately.
Doodh Patti ~ Doodh patti is a more popular chai option in Pakistan. It differs from masala chai because it has only two to three main ingredients – milk, tea, and sugar.
Some Desis enjoy the tea with a few added cardamom pods for added flavour.
Here is how to make Doodh Patti:
- Measure one cup (your drinking cup) of fresh water into a saucepan and bring to boil.
- Crush cardamom pods and add to the water. (This is optional).
- Once boiling, reduce heat and add 2-3 tsp of loose tea or 2 tea bags depending on serving.
- Allow the tea to brew for 3 minutes on a medium heat.
- Now add one cup of milk and let it cook through.
- You can either add sugar now or after pouring into cups.
- Let the milk bubble and froth before removing from heat.
- Pour into cups with a strainer and serve immediately.
Kashmiri Chai ~ Kashmiri Chai is a popular tea that is enjoyed in the Himalayas. It is also referred to as Pink Tea, Nun Chai or Shir Chai.
The most interesting thing about this tea is that it is actually savoury as opposed to sweet, and it suits the winter climate of the mountains in Asia.
Kashmiri chai mixes ingredients of masala chai with salt and bicarbonate of soda. This gives the tea a unique pink colouring. It is usually made in large batches and many Pakistanis will serve it at weddings or big celebrations.
Here is how to make Kashmiri Chai:
- 900 ml of milk
- 1 litre cold water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 heaping tbsp. Kashmiri Chai or Green Tea
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 4 tbsp. sugar
- Pistachios and almonds for garnishing
- In a large saucepan, add 900ml of cold water, Kashmiri chai, salt, baking soda, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods and bring to boil.
- Lower the heat and allow the spices and chai to cook for 30 minutes.
- Add 350 ml cold water and stir continuously for 5 minutes.
- Add milk and sugar and let it boil.
- Partially cover the saucepan with lid and let the chai steep for 10 minutes.
- Strain the chai into cups and garnish with pistachios and almonds. Serve immediately.
Many Asians love the classic, homely taste that Desi chai brings, but don’t like the time it takes to make – especially when compared to normal English tea that will only take a few minutes.
The question of Desi chai vs English tea really does come down to preference. So, which do you prefer?