Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Of “Chai” Times

One of the highlights of the weekdays used to be the fifteen minute “chai session” that used to happen in the break room. As we weren’t allowed to carry over beverages to our desks, the break was a well anticipated event; not only for those who love “chai” but the camaraderie that went along with it. The experience of “chai time” started into the early days of college, where the campus canteen used to be the centre of “chai and biscuits” at any time of the day or evening. With the hot brew comforting each of us, the woes, worries, near-misses and the best highlights as the day ends. Through the years, these sessions had stayed on in the campus life and eventually even into the office.

“Tea time is a chance to slow down, pull back and appreciate our surroundings.” Letitia Baldrige

Delving into the history and tradition of tea, each area and country have their own special styles and customs. Bringing these styles home feels like sharing a . Known as “shai” in Egypt, the widely preferred tea is the black tea. It is prepared as “Koshary tea” wherein the black tea is steeped in boiled water, letting it set for a few minutes, sweetened with cane sugar or flavoured with fresh mint leaves with milk, the latter being by choice. The other variety is the “Saiidi tea” which is prepared by boiling black tea over a strong flame for five minutes or longer. Being extremely bitter, it needs plenty of cane sugar to go along with it.

Coming over to East Frisia, the traditional tea preparation is a special art in itself. A white rock candy sugar, known as “kluntje” is added to an empty cup. Then tea is poured over the Kluntje, with a heavy cream “cloud” added on. Served without a spoon or being stirred, this tea is had un-stirred in three tiers. Initially it tastes predominantly of cream, then the taste of tea with the final sweet taste of kluntje at the bottom of the cup. As the kluntje melts slowly, it allows multiple cups of tea to be sweetened. Stirring the tea would merge all the tiers as one, thereby missing out on the traditional beauty of the tea savouring. Being a guest, less than three cups of tea is being rude tot he host. Once done, the cup has to be placed upside down on the saucer or the spoon in the cup to signal that one is done and satisfied.

The Sahelian region of the Sahara, green gunpowder tea is had with a session of storytelling and heartfelt conversation. The tea is poured into the glasses and back, with a foam building on top of it. Had with plenty of sugar and little milk, the Sahelian tea has the first infusion as bitter as death, the second as flavourful as life (go in between) and the third sweet as love.

“A thoughtful cup of tea brought to your bedside each morning means more to me than the huge bouquet of flowers bought once a year.” Penny Jordan

With┬áthe lock-down on and the friendly “chai” sessions out of the equation, sharing tea in a special through video chats makes the circle of friendship fun, endearing and lovely. Besides having plenty of tea customs to choose from, each weekend session of tea, feels like bringing another part of the world home.