Chai and Me

I love tea.

Naomi tells me that in Japanese, people say ‘My mouth is lonely’ when they always want to eat. “Is your mouth always lonely for tea, Maaike?”

Maybe.

Today, I made chai.

The green cardamom pods are like withered old gnomes. They require ‘slight’ crushing: I use too much pressure. They split open, spilling their sharp smells and small seeds.

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The loose leaf tea makes me nostalgic. How long since I have used it!

These earth-coloured crumbs I finger come from plants that were coaxed upward by a hot sun. The leaves were pillaged in their prime by pickers, withered and wilted and bruised, heated, shaped and dried. What a mystery in the crumbled tea: God’s world that gives itself to our working hands, plants growing to die at our hands, to travel the oceans in a yellow box, to be sold in a small shop in Little India, and finally to reach my own counter.

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I scoop the loose, dark tea with a Korean soup spoon. I scatter it onto boiling water: the final step of its journey of sacrifice. Is everything in this world made to give itself? Is it just the race of mankind who finds the idea so undesirable?

I pour milk. It swirls through the tea, long tongues of black and white embracing, dancing, engulfing each other. Soon all is one creamy monotone. Cardamom pods float on top. The smooth liquid drinks scent and flavour from those green boats; willingly yielding as a whole to the minority. It could not be chai without such conformation, without the loss of individual identity.

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I turn the heat high. Milky water tentatively climbs the sides of the pot, like an uncertain caress. There is no response from the pot: it only communicates heat. With a sudden disdain of propriety, the milk rushes upwards, a thousand bubbles streaming high on the shoulders of their fellows only to give their place to others, sink low, and disappear. Like a miniature volcano, my chai spews always upward and sweet steamy haziness lifts itself up; moisture given away to the air.

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Hmm…I will have to use the cliche excuse: “pictures don’t do it justice”

This was Leanne’s favourite part, I remember. Her Mom taught me to make this chai. We all watched the chai climb and fall as the heat was raised and lowered. Leanne’s Mom remembered the roadside chai stands in Pakistan. We stood in a kitchen in Western Canada but when she speaks I can see how the chai sellers dip their cups to pour streams of caramel coloured tea, calling to passer-bys. So many miles away, and we make the same drink.

The flowing mesmerizes me. I think it boils too long. I pour chai into two waiting mugs: my tall Korean thrift-store find and my Japanese friend’s mason jar mug. I bring her some. “I don’t have a sieve,” I warn, “so watch for tea grains.” She nods, smiles.

I bring my chai here. Its warmth soothes and I welcome the caffeine. Oh yes, I do love tea.

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