Introduction to Chai
Chai, a sweet and spicy aromatic milk and water based tea fills the aroma of the house every morning and evening (if not more). After living in U.S. for 3 years now, I still feel I crave for chai each day unlike my friends in this coffee-loving country. Well, if America runs on coffee (whether Dunkin or Starbucks), India runs on chai. I have my share of rendezvous with my Dad’s special cappuccino, filter coffee from South India and the relief of instant coffee when my brain requires caffeine- but chai wins it for me.
Calling someone for chai has many different meanings and connotations. As people ask someone out for coffee for networking or dating- calling someone for chai is about building personal bonds at home- sometimes over awkward conversations. Bollywood song, ‘isiliye mummy ne meri tujhe chai pe bulaya hai’ rings the bell about a guy being called to his beau’s home for chai to further the conversation about their marriage. On the other hand, offering a cup of chai to someone who is stressed is also extending that hand of warm friendship, ‘Have a cup of chai and you will feel better or Let’s talk this over a cup of chai’.
Chai holds a ‘dear’ place in the hearts of most Indians where offering a cup of chai is not only considered as hospitality but accepting one is even mandatory to keep the respect of the host. Many times during my visit to villages on work, people would insist on having a tea before moving forward. And it was considered rude to say ‘no’.
Everyone likes their chai in different proportions of its ingredients. Since childhood, I learned that my Dad’s version of more water-less milk chai was different than my Mom’s milky chai. My Uncle’s all-milk chai was another story! But my best cup of chai is made by my Hubby every morning (or evening)! Aha the aroma and served right to bed…….nothing can beat that!
Living in Bihar, I came across abridged version called chai-coffee which was chai with a hint of coffee in it. On top of that, it was cooked on a coal stove and contracted the musky smell of coal giving it a distinct flavor. We enjoyed it most times with conversations with complete strangers, discussing caste, religion or politics. Recently, I also came to know this is called ‘maara-maari’ in Pune which literally means ‘fight’. I wonder if this is the fight of coffee vs chai! Lol.
Sugar content in chai is another interesting subject. As a standard practice in most parts of India, more the sugar in the chai, the more the host is trying to please you (Don’t worry I keep that count right at our place in case you drop in for a chai). Very soon after marriage, my hubby’s friends learned that the new sister-in-law keeps the chai less sweet but covers it up with her behavior! With diabetic genes, one cannot help but be careful.
My friends all over the world love me for my chai- including Africans (especially Kenyans who also call it Chai), Asians and folks from U.S. Chai has been our binder on many occasions when all we wanted to do was to sit around each other and talk about issues which mattered to us and affected us in many ways- from social issues to personal troubles… to spirituality. Chai complements them all. My heart fondly remembers many such friendly and deep, even profound conversations along with chai. My intention through this series is to give a peak into those beautiful conversations. I hope you enjoy this chai-time bonding moments with me…..
You, Me and Chai is an effort to bring those conversations to you which happen among friends along with tea, whether it is at chai at roadside or at the comfort of your home. It is an open platform among friends to share their thoughts and reflections…..If you want to contribute to the conversations, please write to us! We would love to hear what you talk about during your chai-time J