As a new year begins, we look at our favourite hour of the day – teatime (or coffee time, depending on where you live) – around the country. We asked photographers from all over India to show us what this hour starting 5 pm, where everyone slows down to enjoy the last few dregs of the evening sun with a hot beverage and an indulgent snack, looks like in their town or city.
Mumbai, Juhi Sharma. The watchmaker next door says Café Delight has been around since the 'English days'. There is a kettle at the back, where the stove is always alight and the tea, forever brewing. Cutting chai is ordered with conversations on economy and government policy on the side. When they see me photographing 'chai time', I'm promptly offered a cutting chai and invited to join the conversation.
Leh, Pankaj Singh. Monks conducting a holy recital take a break at a home. Traditional tables called the Choktse are laid out to serve them butter tea, biscuits and Thukpa.
Pune, Sheena. Tasting the Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe at a tea garden in Darjeeling.
Chennai, Vinay Aravind. The teashops in Thiruvanmiyur open around 5 am and stay open late into night, often beyond midnight. There's always tea and milk simmering on the stove. The chap who does the pouring ends with a flick of his wrist, leaving a long trail of tea suspended in the air for one glorious, theatrical moment. A tea costs Rs 8, a special tea is Rs 10.
Old Delhi, Kunal Chandra. At Haji Mohd. Hussain's Chicken Fry Shop, the proprietor and his grandson prepare for a long evening ahead. There's an easy banter between the two of them; it's easy to see how food transcends generations. And yes, in Old Delhi, people wait their turn to eat fried chicken even at 5 pm.
Kesod, Pankaj Singh. Neighbours rush to Thakar C. Bhai’s home to hear his predictions for rain this year. He is the 'Drought man’, a traditional forecaster known to accurately predict rainfall and harvest. Divesh, the grandson pours tea into saucers as the men listen intently.
Pune, Sheena. Tea with my grandmother must include snacks. Figs and blue cheese for this gluten-free girl.
Ooty, Punya Arora. Nunthala is a small, colourful village in Ooty, ahead of Lovedale. I usually stop here for chai after a day at the college, or on my way back from a shoot. Lovely chai and the best samosas and bhajjis you could ask for; perfect for the weather in Ooty.
Srinagar, Sajad Rafiq. In the outskirts of Srinagar, farmers take a break from harvesting paddy. Noon chai, typical to Kashmir, is a salted tea, and usually eaten with the local bread called girda or lawasa. The older folks like to carry their hookah around, and a small firepot with burning coal, to keep themselves warm. The firepot is seen nesting in a basket made from the Kashmiri willow that insulates the earthen pot inside.
Kolkata, Pratik Dey Chowdhury. Dating back to the 1800s, Albert Hall on College Street was later renamed Indian Coffee House in 1947. More than a cafe, the coffee house is a cultural hub. It has long been the regular hangout for students and the meeting place for intellectuals and aspiring artists, witness to friendships and courtships, personal and political debates. The Indian Coffee House has a range of coffees and snacks on offer, including the famous black coffee infusion, sandwiches, chops, cutlets and rolls. Coffee shops like Cafe Coffee Day and Starbucks may dominate the market, but in Kolkata the charm of the Indian Coffee House remains untarnished. Kannur, Aysha Tanya. In 'City', the old section of Kannur town, three friends enjoy a cup of tea with 'kaddi' or snacks in the evening sun, next to a tea shop overlooking the Mappila Bay.
Shillong, El Dhar. In Shillong, a romantic evening often means a cup of rich black tea accompanied by some soul-stirring slow food: here, freshly made fluffy Putharo (rice pancakes) from a local baker named Judy and a sinful bowl of spicy dohkhu (beef offal stew) from my mother-in-law.
This article first appeared on The Goya Journal , a publication focused on culinary storytelling.