By Soni Satpathy-Singh
Just My Cup of Tea
I remember having to learn how to make chai before my grandparents, who lived in Orissa, India, were to come and live with us for six months in Nashville, Tennessee. My mom lamented over what my grandparents would think about her child rearing skills since my two sisters and I hadn’t yet learned how to make the perfect cup of chai. My nine-year-old self offered words of consolation that were something along the lines of to hey, no big deal, Ma, they’ll just think we’re stupid, spoiled American kids I quipped with a smile on my face.
Setting the bar low did nothing to decrease my mom’s stress. In fact, it only made it more intense. And so before my grandparent’s arrival, my sisters and I entered, what can only be described, as a chai boot camp at home. We learned how to blend the spices, crush the ginger, when to introduce the tea to the milk, how to make sure we didn’t over steam the tea leaves; and then there was adjusting the sweetness to suit my Grandfather, making the ginger more subtle for our grandmother, and how to control the ratios of spice to milk to tea for bigger gatherings.
Out of the three sisters, I became the chai alchemist in our house. Only as an adult do I now suspect that my sisters purposely decided to not learn the skill too well so they could be excused from having to make it. This left me to take on the role of the official family chai walli. Though I had learned the skill begrudgingly at first, I began to love being the chai whisperer of our family.
I joke with my mom that her forcing me into this cycle of “child labor” was a good thing as it lead me to experimenting with different types of chai. I became obsessed with learning the regional differences in India for how chai is taken and even more so how each family within any given region has their own recipe for chai. Depending on where you came from, you may use condensed milk versus whole milk, star anise or fennel, black versus green teas. Some families use bay leaves, some do not. Still others use mint leaves. There are so many variations of what we have come to know simply as chai.
My obsession with chai and the many ways it can be enjoyed is what excited me about Tea India’s Chai Moments line. The spices are real and unlike many ready-to-use lines, they are not muted. Rather, the flavor profiles are very distinct. It also got me thinking of chai and how certain variations of it define moments in my own life.
I’m understanding that I have an almost visceral reactions towards chai with almost all of memories of it relating to my parents and my childhood. Because of these positive memories, chai fills me up literally but figuratively, too: feeding the abstracts of the heart, soul, body, and spirit. Different chai types evoke different ways of relating to others and myself.
Let’s take a look at some of moments for that perfect cup of tea:
Community Time and Chai for the Heart
Chai for the moment: Milk Tea
My mom—like many Aunties of her generation—would bookend every party they’d host with vats of milky, sweet chai, no matter the headcount. Chai would be served at the beginning of the night to accompany light snacks and herald the Uncles’ nocturnal rounds of taash and then again to punctuate the end of night to be served with mithai.
What I loved about these big, chaotic, Desi parties was that milk tea was a beverage that every one of every age would drink or at least think they were drinking. The youngest children, say 2 or 3 years old would want in on the action. And so not wanting to exclude even their youngest of guests from enjoying the act of having tea, my parents would warm up milk and pour a smidge of their chai in it so as to color it. They’ve done this for their grandchildren and for all the little kids in the community.
Over the years then milk tea for me evokes a sense of community, as an inclusive drink that brings together generations of people. Even when I’m hosting non-Indian parties I still offer milk tea because it not only makes me feel like a good hostess but, I also feeling like I’m welcoming someone into my home and life.
Girlfriend Time and Chai for the Soul
Tea for the moment: Masala Tea
Though I was the one who would usually make chai for everyone else at home, I would be remiss if I didn’t recount the times it was made for me. When I’d get up early to study for a test or come home from college daunted by research papers, my dad would ply me with masala chai to help me stay awake. He also did it to show his support and more so, as a sign of hope that maybe, just maybe, it would help me study more steadfastly, and I could finally bring home good grades.
Well, no amount of masala tea proved to work that magic but my dad’s extremely sweet thoughtfulness remains with me today and is a trait I share with my tight circle of friends. Masala chai, with its depth of flavor and aroma, is what I make to share with friends, particularly in times where I think they need a pick-me-up or reminder that they have a cheerleader or supporter in me.
Girlfriends, like masala chai, are cathartic so I say why not the combine the two. This multiplication of comfort with comfort always lends itself to storytelling and sharing, of bonding, and being surrounded by hope and support. Your kids are already showing signs of rebellion even though they’re not yet tweens? Here girl, a cup of masala chai. Your husband said what to you? Ooh girl, more masala chai. Your in-laws are staying with you for how long!?! Yikes, drink the rest of the masala chai (with Kahlua.) You get my point. Masala chai to me is a drinkable way of communicating I got your back and know you have mine.
Couple Time and Tea for the Body
Tea for the moment: Ginger Tea
Ginger tea also expresses comfort to me, but in a more intimate way. It was what my parents would make me when I was sick so for me it’s a drink that soothes, it’s a drink that expresses care and gets my body back on track. I find it particularly alluring as a refuge from the winter and just as my parents made it for me, I now make it for my husband and I when we’ve both returned home from being out in cold. Both my husband and I are migraine sufferers. Ginger is said to be helpful in the management of migraines and so, we liberally put it in our chai to keep migraine terrors at bay.
Me Time and Tea for the Spirit
Tea for the Moment: Cardamom Tea
My mornings are sacred. It is my time to catch up with myself. It is my time to check in with myself and ask all those introspective questions of how am I feeling, what do I want to achieve today, will a bagel with cream cheese really derail me? OK, so perhaps these are the questions I’m supposed to ask in the mornings. Introspective or not, there is a window of time—brief as it may seem on most days—where the morning is mine. And it is at this time that I savor my cardamom tea.
There’s something about cardamom that both excites and calms me. Its aroma is electric and helps feel more alert in the mornings. Cardamom has magical properties. It’s a great detoxifier in that it works as a diuretic and aids in eliminating the body’s waste. Ayurvedic medicine swear by its antidepressant properties, and it’s said to combat bad breath and help with the overall quality of dental health. All that and it deliciously pairs with milk and tea? You can now better understand why I allocate this drink for my me time. It truly helps ME from the inside out!
Sharing Chai Moments in Other Ways
I serve my chai with a modern, do-it-yourself spin. To jazz up my instant chai spread for parties, I throw a decorative cloth on a table, complete with a fancy portable hot water urn and cute/funky disposable or regular tea cups (depending on the number of guests).
I’ll then arrange two baskets: one with sugar and honey and another with packets of Tea India Chai Moments and voila! Guests can get their chai fix when and how they want by simply pouring the hot water/milk over the tea mix in their cup.
For smaller parties with girlfriends, you can use a teapot full of hot water with the chai mix packets on a decorative tray. This is great for impromptu tea parties with the girls. Easy and chic never looked so good. It’s all about presentation, ladies.
Instant chai can also be used in DIY gift baskets in a creative and thoughtful way for a fellow Masalamomma. Baskets, cellophane wrap, tissue, decorative paper shred, and ribbons go a long way and can be easily found at your local craft store.
Themes for your gift basket depend on your friend’s personality but here are a few suggestions to get you started.
- R&R Gift Basket: Basket with Tea India Chai Moments Ginger mix packets in a decorative case along with candles and aromatherapy products. Many stores carry chai scented candles, lotions, and exfoliates which can take the chai theme to creative heights!
- Indian Snack Lover’s Gift Basket (non-perishable): Basket with packets of Tea India Chai Moments Masala mix bound together with organza ribbon, along with mason jars of different sizes filled with snacks such as tea biscuits and an array of nuts or dry delights you’ll find at your local Indian grocery story.
- Indian Tea Lover’s Gift Basket: Basket with an array of Tea India Chai Moment mixes in a lush Indian pouch with a decorative Indian cup and saucer.
Chai can also be a post workout treat. I’m not usually the mood for a hot beverage after returning from the gym though I do find myself craving chai flavors. I use the instant chai mix to make a cup ahead of time and refrigerate it to be had as a post workout iced chai treat.
Another easy treat is to make a couple of cups of instant chai (one India Tea Chai Moments pouch equals one cup) and pour it into ice pop molds, lightly drizzle it honey or agave syrup, and freeze it. This is an easy, refreshing, and low calorie post workout or summer treat.
Finally, Tea India Chai Moment mixes can allow you to feel the comfort of home even when away from it while traveling for work. All I need is hot water and a mix and I’m set.
To see more recipes and ways to use Tea India’s Chai Moments, check out:
This post was sponsored by Tea India however opinions expressed in this article are that of the author only.
You can follow Soni on Twitter at @SketchyDesi and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sketchydesi. To read Soni’s bio, visit masalamommas.com/2014/12/18/new-contributor-soni-singh/.
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