Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Yoga of Chai!

For many of us caffiene crazed yogis, Starbucks is a daily jaunt for a morning, post lunch or post dinner caffiene kick. Yes folks, I am a Starbucks addict and have provided my share of financial support for this company since the day it landed into downtown Portland. Wish I had put the same amount of money in its stock. All for the joy of a great "experience" -- yes that is why we started paying $1.20 for a cup of coffee. Starbucks became an experience versus a daily Folgers kick to wake you up from bed.

I must say it got really terrible when I spent a year in Seattle in 1993, because there was a Starbucks in my office building in downtown. You could barely turn a corner in Seattle and not see a Starbucks or an SBC or some knock off of it. A TNF (Tall Non Fat Latte) was $1.20 and barely a pinch. Now its $2.45!!! I recall they used to have loose leafe teas as well, such as Irish Breakfast and then the horrible chai masala tea bags. Occasionally I would try it, but TNF seemed always more appealing, despite its obnxious taste. Terrafizione was so much better, but then it got gobbled up by SB and put to rest. I guess the chai taste was worse. Chai at Starbucks never caught on with me till they bought Tazo Tea and started selling "Chai Latte", a horrible concoction of sugar, honey, vanilla, mixed dried herbs and spices. But then you don't have much choices if you are attempting to get off bad coffee. Especially when my 5 year old tells me "DADDY NO MORE LATTES, ONLY CHAI". I have to pay attention to that or I am in deep trouble.

Now you must know, I come from a culture of "teas" and a large variety of them. There must be at least 10 flavors of Darjeeling Tea (Lopchu, Orange Pekoe, Green .. yada yada.. yada). Chai became a forgotten vernacular in my vocabulary since I moved to North America. I was introduced to hot black freshly brewed folgers. Growing up in India I only tasted instant coffee and that too only with milk and iced. I stopped caring about the boiled black tea with an overdose of fatty milk and sugar.. I prefered our more popular Lipton "Bland" tea bags with a drop of cream and no sugar and tepid water (why couldn't they heat up the water as much as the coffee pot next to it). I was "canadianized and then americanized" as far as tea was concerned and the chai at even the best at the run-of-the-mill india restaurants was disgustingly strong and unrefreshing. No one really paid much attention to flavor, quality or anything else for the matter as far as "chai" was concerned.

That was till I ran into "Oregon Chai" mix at one of those of corner neighborhood coffee shops in 1994 and had my first taste and was repulsed even further. All I could taste was the sugar and cinammon. Where was the "chai" and no this is not how chai was made in the Himalayas. And calling it "Chai tea" was such an oxymoron. Chai is "tea", so what does "chai tea" mean... "TT". . What a bunch of "crock" if there was one! But this is America and we are known for our ability to improvise and extend a tradition from afar to suit our taste, just like those amazing forms of yoga we can experience on late night informercials.

But how long could that suffering last. In 1997 one of my first software hires from from India who so seredipitously lived in Pune asked what I would like from India and I replied "some good darjeeling tea". He brought me a box of "Lopchu" and it changed my life. From then on never did I ever touch the lipton tea bag unless of course I had no choice -- such as a bumpy ride on an airplane or being held ransom at some gas station in a boon-dock location off a national highway where the coffee or the "espresso" was worse than a sip of motor oil.

I was rejuvenated with loose leaf darjeeling tea (ala Iyengar Yoga -- you see the similarity). It was rediscovery of my culture, my roots, something I had put behind me years ago as I blended into the north american culture with a burger, fries, milk shakes and yummy donuts. No one else in my house-hold cared for it. Only I and just I deserved the pleasure of this amazing tea, but only at home. All the darjeeling tea in grocery stores was not the real thing and speciality tea caffes had not yet hit our culture. I dreamed of starting a "chai house" some day. Well it is still just a dream!

The 'tea' from India became a requirement for any employee that was hired and yes we would hire them in "six packs". Six at a time. So every time a six pack arrived, I would get build a nice inventory of darjeeling tea, never ever to be repleted. I went from Lopchu to Orange Pekoe, to Assam and yes a new branded box of tea called "Roopak's" from a specialty grocery store in Karol Bagh in New Delhi. So no other tea but Roopak's for several years. Karol Bagh for any of you who have ever stepped into Delhi is an epicenter of craziness, traffic, pollution, an incredible culmination of man, animal, waste and machinery for the sheer joy of shopping and that too INCREDIBLE SHOPPING! Only next to Chandni Chowk and Old Delhi and yes some day I will write about my yogic experiences in those parts of Delhi. All my trips to India after 1998 included a trip to Roopak's in Delhi, if I was in Delhi to accumulate its tea, as much as I could carry.

So re-aligning myself back with "chai" -- in 2005 I had a chance to to visit Haridwar, India in cold January. Haridwar is a holy city on the banks of Ganges, the holiest river at the foothills of the Himalayas. It is where most Hindus, after they pass on and are cremated, like to have their ashes merged into the holy waters of the river. It is where they can trace back to their past generations as every death in their family is recorded. I traced back mine to the 17th century -- a HUGE discovery for me. It is also where I discovered the REAL CHAI, which forever awakened me to the power of chai! Ironically only an hour away was the holy city of Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world!

Chai tea has now become a Global Vernacular...

PS. This blog was sitting in my draft folder from 2009

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