Tea for me has always been family. When I was fifteen, I was entrusted a certain degree of autonomy in the kitchen. The very first instance of this that I remember is making my grandfather his post-dinner chai. The recipe could not have been simpler, but it has remained with me since that night: a half cup of water, a half cup of milk, wait to boil, one heaped teaspoon of tea powder and finally a conservatively portioned teaspoon of sugar, stir. I still remember my grandfather’s face, his happiness that a grandchild of his was making his chai, the sense of togetherness that existed in that moment. I also remember that he told me it was good; I do not fully know if that is true but it has stayed with me.
This, for a long time, was my only association with tea. I grew older and shifted cities and I would still make tea, but always for someone else. My father used to bring home teas from various parts of the world. This one is nettle tea from the United Kingdom; this one from China, and so on. Being young and more rebellious than I am now, I refused then to indulge in the same interests as him,but over time we have bonded over the same thing. We take turns to make our tea or our chai depending on availability and readiness.
When I stayed away from home for college, it was the same, canteens and tapris filled with memories of conversations that can only occur as people bond over chai, or tea, or cha, or chaiya, or any of the other numerous names that it inhabits. Our daily routines were centred around the practice of visiting the local chai shop and our night closed only once we reached the dregs.
The essence of tea has been for me making relationships, from my family to my friends to shopkeepers and strangers. So, what is it about tea that drives itself into us so deep? It is never the work drink, that has always been coffee for that boost. But somewhere between tea leaves and the warmth of a freshly brewed cup of tea, I feel refreshed and somehow more in tune with the world.
When I think about this now after all these years of tea-drinking and tea making, I suppose that it is this connection that keeps me coming back to it. I know that drinking tea brings with it a wide array of health benefits, some of which frankly speaking I could use from time to time, but it is its connection to the earth, the soil, the ground that links me to every one else that truly pulls me back into the habit. Just as monks used to drink tea and light incense to gain some perspective about a deeper truth in the world, perhaps that is what I feel when I share these bonds of mine with others; perhaps it is in purity of each leaf and in the sincerity of conversation that we forge these bonds.