Chai Time

A small breakfast break from work is sometimes needed not so much for food, as much as for some change. Movement.

I ask for one spinach croissant. She asks, “Anything else?” I say, “Mmm..tai chi..tai…sorry. Chai tea.” Though I smile, I am irritated. Not because I got it wrong, but because “chai tea” is ridiculous. She asks me if I want it with spices et all. Oh yeah, that’s what chai tea is. The one with milk is chai latte. I say that I want it with milk.

I then give a voice to my irritation. I say, “Back home, chai means tea. It just comes with milk, and you tell them if you don’t want milk.” She laughs and agrees. She says, “Oh yes! It’s the same where I come from. Chai is tea.” She is from Iran. I chip in some more, “Calling it chai tea is funny. It’s like saying “chai” twice.” She widens her eyes, “Oh yes! I never thought about it!”

I get my chai tea latte or whatever. It’s not bad at all. Especially after drinking the tea from the coffee/tea machine. She starts explaining the chai tea thing to her friend. They look at me and smile. I really wish people knew better about tea. Right from how to make it.

1. Chai tea means tea “Indian” way, here in the US. But they seem to add more spices than an Indian would. Cinnamon? I would say “for God’s sake!” but I am not a believer. Also, if one wants to get it Indian way, one needs to add milk. Though India is diverse, tea is the same throughout India. You may find variations, but they are called by different names. Eg. Pink tea, namak wali chai (salty tea), etc. Normal tea can be prepared differently too, as per your liking – more spices, no spices, more boiling, only brewing, more water, more milk, etc.

2. Normal tea is either without any spices, or with just ginger and/or cardamom. Some people may add lemongrass during summers, but this is only in the hot regions, and quite uncommon.

3. People are not really crazy about flavoured tea. You add your own flavours if you want them.

4. Masala chai comes with more spices. You prepare masala at home, or buy it, and add it as you want. I have never liked masala tea. Also, a lot of chai puritans like me believe that only people who don’t know how to make a decent cup of tea add masala to it.

5. Tea is either brewed like British do it, or boiled. A lot of Indians get it all wrong. They over-boil it and make it extra sweet and a little bitter. A lot of other people get it wrong as well, when they think that they are letting it brew with the tea bag in the cup. The tea bag has no business in the stupid cup after a couple of minutes. You have to remove it and bin it before you start drinking it. That kind of brewing is just as wrong as boiling the tea for too long.

Here’s a simple recipe for some nice ginger tea:

One third water, or even less, as you like it. Add a spoon of sugar, or as you like it. Grate a really small piece of ginger. Keep on gas. Once it starts to boil, add a spoon of simple tea (not leaves, or flavoured one, but the black tea version). You got to make sure that this tea is for tea with milk. Once there is enough dark colour to the water, add whole milk. If you add hot milk, still better. And if the milk is fresh, nothing like it! You don’t need to boil it if the milk is already hot and you may just switch off the gas when the colour of the tea is the right amount of brown! Neither light nor too dark. Colour is what will determine the taste to a large extent. Strain.

If you ask me, English breakfast tea is pretty good for the above preparation too. But in that case, you add two tea bags in the end, after removing the entire boiling mixture off the stove. Once you reach the right colour, you remove the tea bags. Pretty please remove them.

Now drink it as you do nothing but look outside the window.


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