Packaged beverages in India

Indians are remarkably different when it comes to beverage consuming behavior:
1. Temperature: India has unique demand for room temperature beverages. Even the colas and sodas which are traditionally served chilled are often consumed as room temperature. Most retailers will stock three varieties of water/beverage room temperature, slightly cold, and near freezing temperature. However I have rarely seen retailers outside India serving drinks at room temperature (it’s either cold or hot).
2. Time: Most people can spend 30-60 minute with a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise) but Indian tendency of gulping rather than sipping? It is not uncommon to gulp down 2 glasses of water at one go, and the treatment of beverages is often not so different. Even as a child you are encouraged the drink the entire glass of milk (your first beverage) in one go.
3. Packaged hot beverage: Milk, tea, coffee tastes best when served hot, but most retailers are not equipped for that. So you are left with 2 choices either shell out a 100/- for a cup of coffee at CCD (or any other exotic high end tea/coffee parlor) or shell 5-10 bucks for a cheap (probably unhygienic) at a roadside hawker. The vending machine tastes like power as they don’t use fresh milk or coffee. Why is there not a market for something in the middle? A simple electrical warmer could heat up the can/bottle before it is consumed.
4. Lack of indigenous taste: traditional Indian drinks like coconut water, sugarcane, neebu pani are hard to find and the packaged beverage is laced with so much sugar that it cannot be healthy.

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Chasing the local Chai

As a long time fan and aficionado of coffee, I have tried to find all the information I can get about it. Of the many trivia I have gathered so far, the Turkish way of preparing coffee always had its special place in my mind. It was the Turks who said –“Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love”. The Turkish way of preparing coffee involves putting very fine ground coffee and water in an cezve, and bringing it close to boiling twice or thrice. More info here. I thought it to be a unique process which imparts a very different flavor to the drink.

What broke my perception of uniqueness about Turkish coffee was the fact that I saw a street vendor prepare the local Indian tea – chai (In places near Mumbai, half a cup of chai is also called cutting) outside my office. He had just started when my colleagues and I strolled up to him. During our typical office gossip, I noticed him pour milk and tea leaves (the commonly found, low-cost variety) in a saucepan and heat it three times to a near boil. He removed the saucepan just as the boiling started and replaced it back in less than ten seconds, and served us only after doing it thrice. I interrupted him quite abruptly, my curiosity having taken the best over me. He explained that this way of preparation gave the chai its unique flavor.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks! That is the reason many affluent people are addicted to this low-cost, common man’s drink. It scores over the dip tea or other similar available beverages not just because of its cost, but the flavor imparted by this unique preparation style which has been perfected by almost all street vendors across India. That is also the reason that chai made at home lacks a certain flavor found in the local street shop.