Tea: Chai, the Iraqi Way
Quick quiz, loyal readers (why by now ought to ball quite hard indeed): what was the first proper We Ball Harder post?
It was Tea: an Introduction. Now, nearly a year later, it’s time to get specific, to talk about the most badass, caffeine-straight-to-the-veins, hard-wired psycho-strength tea out there: Iraqi style tea, chai, as found on the streets of Baghdad and in Iraqi restaurants, cafes, and households worldwide.
So, what does “Iraqi tea” mean? It’s not far off from Turkish or Persian tea in preparation, one which ultimately derives from the Russian Empire.
All these styles come down to this: add a shitload of loose black tea* to a pot (far more than you think necessary – at least 2 tablespoon per person, usually not less than 3 heaping spoonfuls), add some cardamom pods if feeling cheeky, then add BOILING water, and place the teapot over a heat source for 15 minutes or longer. Preferred heat sources are the top of a charcoal-powered, fire-spewing samovar:
Or on top of an electric one, which just steams the tea. You can also do it like this:
This has the same effect as an electric samovar, but isn’t as cool. If you’re really fucking intense, you put the teapot not on top of a samovar, not on top of a kettle, but straight on the stove, or even better, charcoal/wood fire. This is what the true beasts of Baghdad do. The desired result for any of these methods is to create a knockout-strong concentrate in the teapot, which is then diluted with hot water from the samovar or kettle. If it’s served out of anything other than a small glass, much like the one pictured, you’re dealing with a trifler. Hard ballers ain’t got no time to trifle!
The good thing about making a lot of tea concentrate is that you can keep it on the heat all day, have tea whenever you wish, and the flavor only gets deeper. This is the fuel that keeps Iraqis (and Turks, and Persians) going all day long, and is drunk at regular intervals throughout the day, but always after every meal and in the afternoon.
Having said that, what distinguishes Iraqi chai from the Russian, Turkish, or Persian styles is the sheer strength. Real chai in a public establishment is literally almost black, and requires almost a centimetre of sugar at the bottom of the glass to take the edge of it. The end result is almost like a strong tea syrup. Two glasses will have you buzzing all day long. Who the hell needs espresso? For coffee fiends that don’t drink tea, try this. Try it without sugar, I dare you.
*Preferred tea for this is Ceylon loose black tea. The best I’ve found so far is Alwazah FBOP1, but any Ceylon tea should do. Don’t use Turkish tea, as it’ll never get strong enough. Preferred ratios for dilution range from 1:3 to 2:1 concentrate:water, depending on the strength of the concentrate. The longer it’s been on the heat, the stronger it’ll be, of course.
Bonus: here’s an entertaining video of Muhannad al-Darraji, possibly the hardest balling chaichi (tea vendor) on the streets of Baghdad: