The Fascinating ‘Kulhad Chai’

If you look at the menu of any self-respecting tea-house franchise in the country, then you will notice the presence of a ‘kulhad chai’ on the menu. Tea has been such an integral part of Indian households that talk of kulhad chai is nothing new for the general populace.

You may have heard your parents go on and on about the earthy taste of this beverage. And it goes without saying that you too may have tasted it. So you know what this earthy flavour is. There is no other way to describe it.

What is a Kulhad?
A kulhad is a traditional clay cup, without any handles. It is very plain in its form. It is unpainted, unadorned and simple in design. And it is made, like all earthenware, by firing in kiln.  The earthen cup tends to soak up a bit of the hot fluids poured into it. So, when you pour hot tea into a kulhad, a bit of the tea soaks into the clay and the two flavours intermingle. This is what creates the earthy flavour everyone loves. The same phenomena can be observed when drinking water that has been stored in earthen pots – the water acquires a distinct taste from coming in contact with the clay.

Where did it all start?
In all honesty, nobody can pin-point when and where the tradition of serving kulhad chai began in the Indian sub-continent. Earthen pots have been in use around the region since the Indus Valley Civilization, as per archaeological findings. That was 5000 years ago!

India has had a long history of using earthen pots, whether it is for cooking, storing, or serving. The discovery of such earthenware in the ruins of Indus Valley Civilization sites is proof of that. It really does not matter when or where this tradition started. What matters is that it continues.

You can find chai-wallas across North India, particularly parts of Uttar Pradesh, still serving tea in a kulhad. But this is not restricted to just one region. There are chances that some tea-seller in Shimla or another one in Mumbai might be serving kulhad chai as well.

How does one drink from a Kulhad?
This can easily be answered. Pour hot tea in a kulhad, and bring the vessel to your lips. Then sip. There are claims that this straight-forward method is incomplete, and that you actually need to nibble on the edge of the cup, before sipping the tea. This will help bring out the earthy flavour from the clay.

Simple pleasures in life are just that: simple. And that explains the beauty of this modest serving vessel which enhances the tea’s flavour and becomes an important part of your memory.