My Chai Story
Growing up in an Indian household in America brought forth a unique perspective of culture and heritage. My Indian upbringing and home life often countered my American social and school life. As do many children of first generation immigrants, I had to find my own balance between the culture of my parents and the culture I grew up in.
When I was younger, I used to often separate the two worlds as much as possible; however, over the years, the definition of my own culture has started to meld into one Indian American amalgamation of my favorite aspects of both. I like to think I have learned to value and respect each culture as I expand and develop my own bubble of customs and traditions.
One of the things I have merged into my life is tea time. My parents would often come home from work in the afternoon and look forward to a hot cup of tea that would upswing their stressful and busy day. It was often the one moment of peace before me and my brother would wreck their quiet with our own chaos. But over the years, we both started to adopt the tea time and it became a wonderful tradition we now look forward to and share as a family.
Tea time in my home had to have Masala Chai. I am biased, for sure, but my mom makes the best chai. Just writing this makes me crave for it now. A surprisingly simple recipe was clearly perfected over years and years of my mom making it every day. My mom somehow knew exactly how much of everything was needed without ever touching a measuring spoon or cup. I like to think of it as a culinary artform I get to experience every time she makes tea.
She fills the pot with water exactly enough for everyone and pours out the right amount of tea leaves. As the water is heating up, she grabs fresh cardamom and starts grinding into a fine powder. If she feels extra special, she slices some fresh ginger and tosses it in with a big swing of milk and a healthy dose of sugar. My favorite part is watching her toggle the heat back and forth in a sort of dance with the rising frothy tea in the pot as it tries to boil over.
I swear, nothing beats it.
After I left for college, I would miss my mom’s chai and more importantly, the tea time we would share together. I tried making it at my dorm, but it just didn’t have that same touch. Since it didn’t give me the same satisfaction, I started cutting down the traditional chai and opted for the classic coffee shop chai. And interestingly over time, it’s become a staple of my tea routine.
I started spending more time in coffee shops with my friends. We would explore different local coffee shops and try their chai, spending our time harshly criticizing how it wasn’t even close to the real thing. Yet, every week, we would still go to a new shop and try again. It became a fun routine that I now look back on with such fondness.
There are still days I’ll hop over to a coffee shop and order an “Iced Chai Tea Latte”. While traditional chai sure isn’t called “chai tea” and isn’t iced, it’s still really good!
Funny enough, these two similar but drastically different drinks have taken a unique importance in my life. They both bring nostalgic memories but satisfy different cravings, but are both quirky aspects of my life and culture.
When we first started 46tons, I really was excited about sharing my story with tea. Chai, in particular, has shaped and formed so many of my fondest memories, supported me in my down times, and comforted me during my stresses.
We each have our own story. Mine just happens to be captured really well with chai, both the American and Indian one.