You are probably thinking: Why would someone who avoids eating dairy choose to write about a milky drink?
To which I reply: You mean chai? You mean this glorious, fragrant, silky sweet full-fat milky drink?
Going to India and not trying the chai would be a little like going to Italy and not trying the pasta.
And once you have tried the chai, and met the people making it, then it’s a little habit that can be hard to break.
More than once I have held my hand over my cup when Kapil tries to pour my morning chai. “Nay” – no chai today. But then I think… it’s so cool and crisp this morning. And I’m feeling so bendy and relaxed from the yoga. And Guruji and Shree are chatting in the background, and the birds are singing, and the breeze is blowing in my hair, and my husband is sitting beside me happily munching away on his kitcherie. So I think “yes, I will have just one chai today.”
Later on I wander over to Kami’s house, and sit on a mat on the kitchen floor with Laksheet to sing “head and shoulders, knees and toes”. She offers me some fresh-made chai. I don’t want to be rude, of course, and it smells so nice… so I have one more dish of chai. Just a small dish of chai.
After playing with the baby cow in the back yard, I wave goodbye to Laksheet and head down to the kitchen. There is Deepu, with his broad smile, stirring a big pot of chai. “Take a picture of me!” So, we take pictures of the chai, and of each other, and we take some selfies. And he quite insistently pushes another cup of chai into my hand. This is the way here – a cup of chai together is like offering coffee to a neighbour who stops by.
On the course of our travels we have begun to start a list of the things we would like to bring home with us. I don’t mean material items. It’s more like lifestyle changes, habits and customs. You bet that cooking a lovely pot of chai for an afternoon with a friend is on that list! So to that end, we spent some time in the kitchen learning to cook the perfect cup of Masala Chai.
500 ml made up of milk and water**
1 tbsp black tea leaves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
6 cardamon pods
3 black peppercorns
1 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
‘** Traditional chai is all milk, but we like to cut it with water to make it a little lighter. Up to you.
The above recipe serves 4 little chai cups, or 2 North American mugs. Scale as necessary. Consider using non-caffeine tea leaves and a non-sugar sweetener like Stevia to make this an every-day all-day drink.
Bring water and milk to a boil while you add in all the ingredients. Keep stirring as you go. Once it has frothed up, turn down the heat and let it simmer for a few minutes. Be careful not to let it boil over or burn on the bottom. Strain into your teacups and off you go!
N.B. Chai is just tea with milk and sugar. Masala chai, like the above, has all the spices mixed in. Your general everyday chai at the Ashram is just plain chai with some fresh ginger, but neighbours roll out the masala chai to really make you welcome.
N.B. 2. I’m posting this from Thailand, where the word for “yes” is “chai” hmm!!