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Chai (tea) was a staple growing up in our Indian household. We had chai when a neighbor stopped by to say hi. When I needed a break from studying or work, the answer was chai. Experiencing a three o’clock energy dip? …must be time for chai. After dinner… you got it – chai-time. I don’t recall my parents or their friends ever saying it was too late for chai or that they had had enough chai that day. Anytime was chai-time.
Almost every morning for 48 years, my dad has made bed tea for my mom and any of us lucky enough to be home. I would awaken to the gentle pounding of my father using the mortar and pestle to crush fresh pods of cardamom. I knew what that sound meant. The time was 7:15am and in 5 minutes the smell of fresh grated ginger, crushed cardamom and the scent of orange pekoe tea would find it’s way into my room. Once the tea was dark brown, dad would add milk to make it a perfect caramel color. His sweet tooth had him a little heavy-handed on the sugar (not a problem for me). And in 10 minutes steaming hot chai would be on my nightstand. A hot cup of tea at my bedside made emerging from my world of dreaming into my world of doing a little bit easier.
On weekends or holidays, we would gather in the sunroom, where my mom somehow magically kept orchids blooming year-round in Buffalo, NY. We would gather in our PJ’s to discuss who fell asleep before the end of the movie (usually me), or what we dreamt about, or what we hoped to create together in the upcoming day.
It was only when I left home that I realized how much I missed dad’s chai. Making my own chai tastes good, but dad waking me up with chai, now that’s love. There’s something so nurturing and connecting about my experience with tea. I realize the importance of these touchstones in my busy life, to ground me and bring me back to what’s most meaningful. Now that I live 3000 miles away from my family, I’ve noticed that when I’m homesick, I make chai for myself & to share with others. For me the equation is simple: Chai = Love.
In case you’re interested here’s…
Dad’s Official Chai Recipe
2.5 cups water
1 cup 2% milk (soy or almond milk)
1/4” grated fresh ginger
4 pods of cardamom
1 tea bag (he swears by Orange Pekoe Tetley tea)
3 tspn. sugar
You’ll also need:
Mortar & pestle
Small strainer for tea cup
2 of your favorite coffee mugs
Bring water, fresh grated ginger, crushed cardamom seeds to a boil. Add one tea bag and let it become dark brown. Then add milk until the tea is a caramel color. Put two mugs in the sink and add 1-1/2 tsp sugar at bottom of cup. Put the cup strainer on the empty cup & pour chai until full. Stir & serve.
- What traditions, rituals, or practices do you do weekly or daily?
- How do they serve you?
- When you’re not at home, how do you find “home” inside you?
Send me your questions — drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha or write your question and comments down below.
To feeling at home wherever you are,