I have never heard of Irani tea or Osmania biscuits until I was in Hyderabad where I was told that there are more than 25,000 tea shops! Every hotel staff told me that I should try the Irani tea. And so I decided to check it out.
This kind of tea was first introduced in India by Persians who settled there long ago. The owner of Paradise Restaurant, Ali Hemati, told me that, traditionally, Iranians do not drink tea with milk. But this special concoction was customised for the Indian palate centuries ago. Irani tea or chai as it is called is a blend of almost stewed tea leaves, boiled milk and sweet condensed milk. However, some shops sweeten the tea further with sugar. There is also a rumour that some Irani teas are done with ground biscuit crumbs, and even pulverised bones!!
I had no idea where to obtain authentic Irani tea or, for that matter, where I could get the best to sample. We went to a local tea shop called Shadap to try our luck. As I entered the shop, I noticed that there were absolutely no women drinking tea. Most of the tea drinkers were elderly, Muslim gentlemen engaged in conversations. Inside the shop, at the counter, there were lots of baked biscuits and fried pastries on display. I placed an order for two cups of Irani tea with Osmania biscuits. Soon after, two cups of steaming Irani chai full to the brim, almost spilling over, arrived with a side plate of Osmania cookies. I took a sip of the tea and, lo behold, it was extremely sweet, thick and milky. The Osmania biscuits were more like shortbread with a sweet, salty taste. They melted in the mouth the moment I popped them in. The biscuits were crumby as they left a lingering taste of fat on the tongue.
I had the opportunity to visit two more kitchens to see how Irani tea was made. There was not much of a difference. The tea leaves, as usual, were boiled in a special container and then left over glowing charcoal in some places, while at other kitchens they were just left to boil on slow fire for hours. Milk was boiled in a separate container. Upon receiving an order, the sweet, hot milk was poured into the cup or glass and topped up with the strong solution of tea.
There are many Irani cafes all over Hyderabad and Secunderabad . People drink tea throughout the day as it is supposed to release stress and keep them alert. Thanks to all the tanning in the stewed tea! The tea is so popular with tourists and locals that the Taj Banjara decided to set up a Chai shop that serves Irani tea with snacks. Though a little pricey compared to the small, local tea shops, it is good value for money as quality tea and great ambience are assured.
TAJ BANJARA HOTEL
Road No. 1 Banjara Hills
Hyderabad Andhra Pradesh – 500 034
Tel: (91-40) 66669999
Fax: (91-40) 66661070