In the Pakistani culture, chai is a so integrated that you can predict when someone would want a cup. I’ve never really been a fan though and at desi dinner parties and weddings, I sulk inwardly as everyone revels in their cup of chai after dinner, wishing for my own cup of something that completes the meal.
Let me backtrack a bit though – when I say “chai”, I just mean tea as chai is Urdu for tea. Although, there can be masala chai, I’m just referring to the regular stuff.
Anyways, as I was flying over to Canada to attend a family wedding over a week ago, I realized that I had done nothing to ensure that I got a fresh cup of coffee everyday. I was going to my cousin’s house near Toronto, staying at her home in the days leading up to her daughter’s wedding. There were many events, mehendi that had to be put on, everyone running around busy… I couldn’t possibly expect someone to drop anything and make sure I got a good cup o’joe to stave off my zombie-like tendencies that emerge when I go without coffee. Why didn’t I get a small portable hand grinder and a bag of beans and then also pack my pour over and some filters? I was so focused on packing all the essential items needed for all the events – clothes, shoes, jewelry, that I hadn’t even thought about it.
The first morning, I drank some instant coffee they had when I realized that what I needed to do was embrace the chai. And so the second the morning while I was eating an aloo paratha and was asked by someone (my mom, another person staying in the house? I don’t remember anymore) if I wanted chai, I shrugged my shoulders and said “Sure”.
And so that’s how it went. I figured out how I liked my chai – with milk but no sugar – and had it consistently throughout the week. I even drank some Kashmiri Chai at a place called Royal Paan one night, which was, um, pink.
The night of the mehendi, I actually sought out the chai that was made by the caterers. “This is good chai,” I said to my younger sister, a frequent chai drinker, after a few sips. I then realized my knowledge is quite limited. “Wait, is this good chai?” She confirmed that it was indeed good. I knew what I was talking about! Woohoo!
I even found myself making chai a few times for all the folks staying at my cousin’s place. I have to admit, one of those times was because I wanted to drink something and it would be incredibly rude just to make a cup and sit in a group of people, sipping on my hot drink while everyone wondered why I didn’t offer them anything. By the end, I had each one’s chai preference pretty much memorized.
While coffee will forever and always be my caffeinated drink of choice, I think I’ll be more open to chai. So, next time I’m at and event and everyone around me is enjoying a cup of chai and there is nary a cup of coffee to be seen, I’ll join in. Maybe.