Chiya - Chai
You say chai we say chiya, but is there a difference? In truth not much, chai is Hindi and chiya is Nepalese. Other than language the differences are very subtle, so to over generalise, in India, chai is quite strongly spiced with cloves where is in Nepal chiya is more subtly spiced with cardamom and black pepper. Behind the generalisations are the people who make the chiya and give it a provenance that goes far beyond a simple cup of tea.
In the cities chiya is brewed by wallahs and it was one of these wallahs, Ram Kumar, who first introduced me to a love of chiya. Tall and wiry in his turquoise lungi, Ram was the undisputed king of tea in Kathmandu. Decades of tea making had left him with a slight stoop as he dashed from door to door with his bright tin thermos in one hand and a bucket of glasses in the other. He had elevated the making of tea to an art form, sweet and spiced, neither over brewed nor over spiced, it was without doubt the best tea in Kathmandu. All through the autumn and winter months he lived in a small brick store room that doubled as his kitchen.
We all knew when monsoon was about to start as Ram would disappear without warning and his patch would be invaded by rival chiya wallahs eager to claim his customers. A break in the weather and the monsoon rain easing off signalled Ram’s return and the annual post monsoon entertainment. Rival wallahs didn’t want to let go of Rams highly lucrative patch, lots of shouting and arm flapping ensued, however they never actually came to blows. Ram’s chiya was so much better than anyone else’s, rivals never got a serious look in.
Over the years we became good friends and when Sera and I finally left Kathmandu to get married, Ram’s parting gift to us was his secret recipe. We still make chiya in Yak Yeti Yak, our restaurant in Bath, the same way and this is Ram’s recipe we are sharing.
Makes 4 cups
500 ml | 2 cups whole milk
500 ml | 2 cups water
3 teaspoons loose black tea pearls or 3 English breakfast tea bags
3 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
1 ½ teaspoons Chai Mountain masala
Place all the ingredients in a steep sided pan and heat slowly, stirring the chiya frequently until it just comes to the boil. Take the chiya off the heat and allow it to settle before straining it into cups or a serving pot.
The slower you heat the chiya the better; the tea and spices will infuse so it’s best not to rush.