If you arrive in India by anything but plane, chai will likely be your first taste of this amazing place. I'd been happily sipping chai for the past 15 years, but my first cup in India two years ago gave me new pleasure for this drink.
After a 20-hour rump-rattling bus trip from Katmandu, Nepal (with its sweet, pure lemon tea), our driver pulled into a roadside snack shack to allow us a midday meal. We'd crossed through the otherworldly green plains of Bihar for many hours, and down the terrace of Nepal throughout the night before. We were hungry and hot, and fried vegetable pakoras and steaming tea were all there was in the offing.
The meal was simple and wonderful, but more memorable for the large pepul leaf on which the pakoras were served and the shallow, wide-brimmed clay cups in which the chai was poured. The challenging taste of the earth was in every sip. A pile of broken cups lay smashed upon the ground off to one side of the veranda. While it seemed pretty foreign to destroy these pretty and functional little cups (pottery's meant to last), we learned to love it.
We found chai recipes and quality varied throughout India, but once we left the northeastern states we missed these ingenious little drinking vessels. Not only do they enhance the taste of chai (and lassies, a refreshing chilled yogurt drink, too), but they're clean, easy to dispose of (and ultimately recyclable), and create jobs for over populated and labor-intensive India. Too bad we can't get them here.