Friday, February 4, 2011

Day 4 ~ Masala Chai ~ 12 Days of Homemade Chai

"Black teeeee. White teeee." The call came through the tent walls as the sun rose in the East. 

Every morning without fail, high in the Himalayas, the alarm would sound, "Black teeeee. White teeeee." 

In India, it's all chai. Chai is tea. 

In the camp the cooks would offer two drinks—plain black tea, or tea with a hearty dose of milk and a touch of sugar as the British would have it. 

"Black teeeee. White teeeee." That's chai. And that's how my husband tells the story of his time in India just before our marital engagement.

He was away for weeks upon weeks. For a young girl in love, that was a long time to be gone. I missed him dearly. I dreamt of his journeys in the crowded cities and the barren mountains. I thought of yaks and sherpas and dahl and tea.

He wrote me letters. I still have them tucked into my journal somewhere collecting dust on a bookshelf.

When he came back from his trip he told stories. Strangely, it seems the only thing I can remember from those stories is the "Black teeeee, white teeeee" wake-up calls. I'm sure there was more to his adventures than this single high Himalayan song.

I realize now why that song has stuck with me all these years. Tea traditions are fascinating to me. Although to understand Indian tea traditions we must first make a stop in Great Britain. 

It was early in the twentieth century. The East India Company was importing a lot of tea from China to supply Great Britain's habit. 

They became concerned about this monopoly on tea and decided to diversify. The Brits found that India was able to produce tea as well. Within three decades India became the main grower of the tea so richly enjoyed by the British. 

Feeling the need to impose the British culture on the people whom they ruled, a group called the Indian Tea Association instituted an aggressive promotional campaign to get the Indian people to drink their own tea. Which in turn equaled greater sales and greater profit for the East India Company. 

The British-owned Indian Tea Association encouraged tea breaks for all factories, mines and textile mills. 

Independent vendors, known as Chai Wallahs, would add spices, increase the amount of sugar and alter the proportions of milk. This meant their product required less tea per volume, which in turn, meant these vendors spent less money on tea. This angered the Indian Tea Association because the vendors were putting less money in the East India Company's pocket and more money in their own. 

Thanks to this smart business move by those Chai Wallahs of old we have come to our treasured spiced chai latte, better known in India as masala chai.

That short history of masala chai may not be entirely accurate. But it went a little something like that. At least according to our trusted old friend Wikipedia.

This version of chai that I hold so close to my heart contains the quintessential spice, cloves. They are beautiful, fragrant and an essential part of my beloved masala chai.

All of this talk about the British makes me recall one of my favorite British bands of all time. Perhaps they are yours too?

The Beatles - Help

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