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The roots of chai

India - one of the world’s largest democracies - celebrated 74 years of independence from British rule on Aug 15th this year.

I’m incredibly patriotic and proud to be Indian and was fortunate enough to have spent seven formative years at a boarding school in the pristine beautiful mountains of Panchgani, India.  I was, however, born and raised in London and simultaneously identify myself as British. And now 21 years after arriving in SF, I’m also part American too. Underneath it all, I’m Indian at heart and love spices -  whatever all this means.  The mind boggles with philosophical questions - what does it truly mean to be Indian or American or British? Do I belong in either country or culture?

Having felt a misfit on and off my whole life, I’ve concluded for me it means being able to take the best of each culture and ditch the rest.  To appreciate that despite the violence and tyranny that occurred with the British occupation, there were historic events that set some positive side effects in motion.  My grandparents suffered through the gruesome horrific partition of Pakistan and India, leaving them homeless, penniless, losing family members and eventually migrating to England to start all over - resulting in me being able to write this piece here.

On the more positive side, humanity gained something incredible through this pain - Chai!  The story goes that until the British stole black tea from China in a great act of espionage and brought the tea industry to India, Chai was practically unheard of or only really used in traditional Ayurvedic medicinal drinks to help strengthen and enliven the spirit.  In order to goose their profits, the British (and specifically the dastardly East India Company) heavily pushed black tea on us Indians.

Indians being who we are, we took this bitter, somewhat unpalatable, expensive black tea and made it more cost effective by adding milk, tastier by adding fresh ground spices, sweeter by adding sugar (coincidently the British also had a mound of sugar to sell) - and then added theatrics to the pouring of the tea.  Almost a century later, we have an incredible Chai that has stood the test of time and grown in popularity around the world.  Not to mention some of the best tea in the world is now grown in Darjeeling and Assam, and each leaf is painstakingly hand picked, mostly by women.  Think of that the next time you enjoy your Chai.

There is no official Chai Recipe.  Each family has their own style and strength that they like to brew.  The Kasa Chai recipe is from my husband Suresh, who has been perfecting his Chai game like a mad scientist for decades. It's a magical drink and one that you may steal your heart every morning and afternoon, like it's done to about a billion Indians.

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