Chai, or the strange yet wonderful concoction of black tea, sugar and milk, is as Indian as it gets. In reality, though, Tea's popularity amongst Indians was actually the product of a very careful propaganda and advertising campaign by British tea companies.
Plantations in India from 1830's were initially meant to grow tea for foreign markets but when demand waned in Britain and the US in the 1890’s, the British decided to look to India to expand their markets and get Indians hooked on Chai. Indians had used tea since ancient times as an ayurvedic medicinal drink but not as a hot social daily drink – the idea of drinking sugar, boiled leaves, water and milk together was unheard of.
In 1903, the British set up a propaganda division called the Tea Cess Committee and renamed this as the Indian Tea Market Expansion Board in 1937. Indians resisted. Even Gandhi railed against it advising Indians not to drink it. Anglicized Parsis and Bengali bhadraloks (gentlefolk) were the early adopters - but what about the rest. An aggressive campaign began.
Two giant Tea companies, Lipton and Brooke Bond began to educate Indians at stations, in city trolley cars, exhibitions, social meetings and even at home (yes going door to door with English sales people) teaching the lovely Indian natives how to prepare, brew and drink a pukka cup of chai like a real English lady and by independence, Indians were hooked. After Independence, the companies began to represent tea as a pure Swadeshi product.
So the next time you drink a cup of sweet Chai, remember, its origins are as Indian as speaking English Hinglish or eating Kedgeree.