The last few rainy days in Colombo has made me nostalgic for a hot chai. A good tea for me is my chai from a roadside boutique in India. Maybe it is the size of the cups they are served in. Or the flavor of cardamon. But my love affair with tea began and ended in India.
As a child, I hated drinking tea. Often, when served tea I would sip at it grudgingly. I never understood how my parents seemed to not be able to function without their morning and evening cup.
Hostel life changed my taste for tea. Faced with limited food options in the mess, the Mumbai monsoons, and the need for something warm in the morning, tea became a staple for the next three years. What I really enjoyed about tea in Mumbai was the shot glass it was served in. Known as a ‘cutting chai’ which was half the amount of your average tea cup. This size was perfect for Mumbai’s rushed life.
Each city makes a different chai. Each cup packed with a different flavour and a different way of serving. Milky and sweet in Gujarat, to light in Kolkata, packed with cardamon in Mumbai.
After I got back from college in 2010, tea was now part of my system, and like nicotine difficult to kick. It didn’t matter that there was no more cardamom or masala in my tea anymore. Tea had to be had. I became that cranky Sri Lankan who will look at the world in a mixture of annoyance and agitation if their tea was not served on time.
In 2015, I developed a bad case of gastritis and with that was advised against having tea or coffee. I didn’t really mind anymore. I’d also spent a few years being a history teacher and taught the Opium Wars. Tea was a drug. It had caused wars. I understand now why the mormons brand tea and coffee with alcohol. I could function without tea just fine now.
However, I still remember my love affair with masala chai. And every time I go to India, I have an occasional cutting chai, an ex addict who consumes only to savour and remember the good times with my cup of tea.