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The best street tea in India: Kolkata’s chai


Kolkata is the tea capital of India, the street ‘chai ke nukkads’ (tea shops) here sell the finest brews in the city – sugary, spicy chai served in kullhads (handmade clay cups)!  

In every corner of India, you can easily find roadside teamakers. Chai is made with tea leaves, sugar, strong whole spices, and fresh milk. From local vendors to 5-star restaurants, almost every food and beverage service in India serve Chai. 

You just don’t get already prepared tea that is re-heated; you get to enjoy the whole theatrical procedure. As you order a cup of tea, the teamaker would add in the ingredients to create the next batch for standing customers. With the sweet generosity of sugar and milk, and well-cooked crushed spices your tea is made in front of you 

Image by Shashi Ghosh, Indian Express.

A local tea vendor in the streets of Kolkata.

Tea is served in small and wide kullhads, which are cups made out of clay. These small clay cups are also called Bhar in Kolkata, which is actually disappeared from most parts of India, but tea vendors on the streets of this city still use them. Bhars are actually thrown after use, on the sides of the road, and then crushed under the vehicles. They are sustainable because, after use, they submerge with the earth, from which they were created. A beautiful cycle of a beautiful environment-friendly business! 
You will rarely find a food joint or corner selling its tea in paper and plastic. Kolkata takes its tea very seriously. 

Image by Karim MostafaAl Jazeera.

Bhar, small cups made of clay

In the Bentinck Street of Kolkata, you will find a tanki chai shop aka Samovar tea shop, which is a 101-year-old tea shop that was opened by Juhuri Singh during the pre-independence era. For the past 40 years, it is being run by his son, who identifies himself by the name of Indian cricketer Mahindra Singh Dhoni. The 66-year-old shop owner makes tea in a Samovar which is a large metallic vessel used to boil water and brew tea or coffee. This is the only tea shop in Kolkata that uses a Samovar. 

Image by Shashi Ghosh, Indian Express.

Samovar Tea Shop in Kolkata.

Another famous tea stall from Kolkata is in Jadavpur University. Many of the students and teachers are fuelled by provided by Shamol da (as students call him), the owner of Shamol Tea Stall. Located near Gate No. 3 of the University, the stall is busy in-between lectures, in the morning before college, after college, and even during after-hours. If his wife accompanies him, she makes Maggi and Bread toast. He serves his Aam pora shorbot (roasted mango juice) during summer, which gets sold out as soon as he prepares it.   

Image by Shamol Tea Stall.

The banner of Shamol’s Tea Stall at Jadavpur University. 

Sustainable one-time use utensils bring hygiene; milk, sugar, and strong spices bring flavour; and so many tea stalls bring their story; – one just has to agree, that Kolkata provides the best street tea!