(This piece was first published under the title ‘Spice It Up’ in the February 2018 issue of German magazine Praxis Englisch.)

One of the things people love to have when they visit India is a beverage called masala chai. It is freshly made tea, with a host of spices boiled in a mixture of water, milk and tea leaves. It is often served with a small snack or a plate of biscuits.

Chai at Poush Mela in Santiniketan, West Bengal (Photo credit: Chintan Girish Modi)

Sometimes, I like to read a book or catch up with a friend over a phone call as I sip my chai. On other occasions, I savour it while looking out the window, and witnessing the world go by. I can have it in the morning or in the evening but it is best when I’m feeling sleepy in the middle of the day or trying to stay warm in cold weather.

The spices used in homes, restaurants, offices, and street shops tend to vary depending on individual taste, availability and cost. What I enjoy most is a blend of grated ginger, cardamom, black pepper, and cloves. Some folks prefer to add cinnamon as well.

I also throw in a few blades of lemongrass, and some mint leaves, which do wonders for the aroma and the flavour. I let it all boil for approximately ten minutes before I use a strainer, and pour myself a cup of this refreshing hot drink.

A spoonful of sugar works just fine for me. However, you can skip that as well as the milk if you are a calorie-counter. The dairy-free version is also suitable for those who are vegan or lactose-intolerant.

Photo credit: Aswathy Senan

The process of making masala chai sounds rather elaborate and ceremonial, so tea bags have begun to be used as substitutes. However, I am a bit old-fashioned in this regard. I enjoy watching the ingredients swim in the water, and bump into each other. The colours change, and the air smells divine.

I feel like an alchemist in that moment, especially if I have someone to share the chai with. This might sound a bit corny but I will share it nevertheless. It is a joy to make something for someone else, and whisper good wishes for them while the gift is coming together in front of my eyes. The food or beverage then becomes an offering of love.

Writer, educator and researcher

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