Enjoying Indian Masala Tea aka `Chai` in Japan
Since my teen years I am a big fan of Indian tea aka 'Masala Tea' aka 'Chai'. Chai comes in several variants such as 1) Masala Tea (milk tea with flavored spices, these are different spices than the ones used in Indian curry), or 2) Ginger Tea (raw or minced ginger paste added in small quantity while preparing chai), or 3) Cardamom tea (cardamoms added as-is while preparing chai), or 4) Plain Chai aka non-masala chai (which includes indian tea powder, water and milk only) and many other variants that are prevalent in different parts of india. Majority of indian restaurants that I have visited in past 15 yrs in Japan, have served #1 (I am sure restaurant chefs are familiar with #2, #3 and #4 versions of chai :)
Mr/Ms Tea Enthusiast: So, how is chai different than hot tea served in McDonalds or Starbucks or other Japanese cafe or tea shops, you ask? Your Friendly Neighborhood Indian: According to my observation (and mine alone), Hot tea served at McDonalds or any Japanese cafe's is the English Tea which is part of british food cuisine, i.e. Tea bag or leaves rinsed in Hot water followed by milk or sugar depending on your choices.
Chai on the other hand, is made by boiling water in a vessel at first, followed by indian tea powder, chai spice (or cardamom or ginger), boiling this mixture for short while, and adding milk and sugar at the end. Steps noted above may follow a different sequence in various indian homes or families, depending on personal choices or preferred preparation styles.
Mr/Ms Tea Enthusiast: Ok, I get it. So if I wish to enjoy hot (or cold) cup of Chai, where in Japan should I go?
Your Friendly Neighborhood Indian: Best and simplest alternative is to visit any nearby Indian food restaurant, and ask for Masala chai.
Another alternative is to visit Doutors coffee shop and ask for Royal Milk Tea (ask them to leave tea bag rinsed).
You could also ask for Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks. If you don't prefer your chai too sweet, don't forget to tell Starbucks staff to reduce sugar syrup in your Chai Tea Latte.
Mr/Ms Tea Enthusiast: Great, and how can I make chai at home?
Your Friendly Neighborhood Indian: Ensure you have purchased Indian tea powder from any local indian grocery shop (google for 'indian grocery shop in japan' and you will find several shops). You can buy indian tea powder and chai spice at grocery shop. If you are not sure which chai spice is good, you can get cardamom and ginger paste from local food stores (Ito Yokado, Daiei, OK, etc). Even raw ginger is sufficient instead of ginger (shoga) paste. Try preparing chai once or twice before inviting your friends home for "Chai Party" !
Happy Sipping ! :)