Rise and Chai – with Paula Watts Photography

This is such a treat. Paula Watts is an NGO Photographer and longtime friend of Sudara. She just returned to the States after almost 3 years in India. Today, we’ll be sharing just a few of the images she captured travelling throughout India and have asked her a few questions about this mysterious ‘Chai Tea’ we’ve all grown to love so much.

So here it is… Chai according to the lovely and incredibly talented Paula Watts!

What is chai? 
Chai is the hindi word for tea. The first time I ever went to India, Starbucks in the states had just started serving “Chai” which was a frothy milk spiced tea. A very different option from the herbal tea served in hot water. When asked for the first time in India “what kind of tea I wanted”, when I replied “do you have chai tea?”, the Indian man kindly responded “you just said ‘tea-tea'”.

How is it prepared?
Depending on the region in India, there are many ways chai is made. Where I lived, everyone drank black tea that was simmered in milk and sugar with spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. In Kashmir, further up in the north, it’s served with additional spices like saffron, which tastes like Christmas in a cup.  Chai is literally made anywhere and everywhere. You’ll see in one of my images that a “chai stand” can be made on a street curb in the busy streets of Delhi if someone wanted to bring a gas cylinder and burner. It’s a pretty easy process that is done at all times of the day. It’s like our version of a morning cup of coffee, an in-between-meal refresher, a literal tea-time, an afternoon social drink, a take-time-to-pause drink, an after a meal drink. It’s for friends, new acquaintances, business meetings, being welcomed into a home, and just the preferred drink all around.

How is it served?
It’s typically served in a metal cup, but varies from house to house and street to street. Chai is such a community activity as well, so it’s very common for a whole tray of chai to be served at once. There’s some beautiful chai sets in India. 

Image via Paula Watts Photography

And there are also plastic cups. 

Image via Paula Watts Photography

Is it widely consumed across india or more popular in certain regions?
I believe it’s everywhere in India, but different regions may be more popular for serving a specific type.

Image via Paula Watts Photography

Any recipe we can give people to make it at home?
oh man, I wish I wrote down a specific recipe. If I tried to translate what we did/how we did it, I’m afraid it might be a botched pot of tea… eek. Sorry!

That’s ok Paula! We just love your work and love learning a little more about the culture you spent so much time exploring, so thank YOU!

Paula Watts drinking Chai in India

Pictured above: Paula Watts sipping Chai in the Himalayas.  A little backstory in her own words on why this image is so cherished by her: “This Indian man lives in a tent in the Himalayan mountains, serving chai and dahl/rice to trekkers/travelers in the mountains. We’re about 12,000ft up the mountain and we all slept under his tent at night and then woke to a morning cup of chai. It was a bucket list experience for sure ;)”

For more about Paula, her travels and her current projects, DO check out her site