Here’s Why Chai Is My Most Committed Relationship

If anyone knows anything about me, it’s this: I am not a morning person. I never have been, until last week due to a severe case of jetlag. It was 6:30 am India time. I was visiting Calcutta, the city where my parents are from, and my dad asked me the universal question: Shall we get chai? I figured why not, Calcutta has always been better in the morning. The city slowly awakening, streets void of traffic, an eternal golden hour. 

We stop at Saroj Tea Stall, the first rounds of chai getting prepared. The staple of Calcutta chai is its serving in a “bhar” (clay cups). This chai is called “Bhar Cha”. I kid you not when I say I have been dreaming about this chai for years because I missed it so much. It’s been two and a half years since I had the pleasure of indulging in Bhar Cha, and I eagerly wait for my first cup.

The bhar is in my hand and I am immediately taken aback. The first sip holds an almost indescribable feeling. I feel as if I have been searching for this feeling my entire life. It’s a sense of home. A comfort that doesn’t lie in a structure but rather a feeling. I cry a little. Is this how chai is supposed to feel? This is liquid love, warm and soothing, every sip meaning more to me than the last. This chai is worth waking up for. This carefully crafted bhar holds more emotion than the $1.50 chai I get at Punjabi Deli. (Did you really think I could talk about chai and not bring up Punjabi Deli?)

I have been frequenting Punjabi Deli for almost an entire year now, our one year anniversary is coming up. I fear however that I have not been faithful. Punjabi Deli became routine, the chai wasn’t as exciting anymore. I used to walk 20-30 minutes hoping to feel that sense of home, and initially, I did. I still do. Not to mention that Punjabi chai is different than Calcutta cha. Punjabi chai depends on cardamom and cloves to add to the experience, while bhar cha is simple: tea bags, an open flame, milk, don’t overdo the sugar. 

Since the deli became routine, the initial excitement and honeymoon phase withered. I became comfortable. A 30-minute walk for chai doesn’t faze me, despite the comfort of routine, there is still magic. People who I tell this to usually say “Are you crazy, why would you do all that for chai, make it at home!”

 

Here’s why I wholeheartedly believe my relationship with chai is the most committed relationship I’ve ever been in. Here’s why I do it. 

They say the body is 70% water, but I consume chai more than water, so I must be 70% Chai instead. Chai is integral to who I am, and my identity. It’s the only thing that brings together my American identity with my Bengali one. My personal definition of love aligns with how chai, regardless of its location makes me feel: A sense of home. Punjabi Deli may feel like a routine lately, and Calcutta chai may be exciting young love, but I feel a comfort beyond borders. I feel closer to home with every sip. Closer to a childhood I never had. Closer to a family I didn’t get to grow up with. Closer to a city I never felt I could call my own. Closer to myself, my real self. The best kind of love is one where you can like yourself in the presence of the other. At this very moment, I am writing about chai while drinking the instant packets I just bought, and I have never felt more secure with myself. This is home. This is love.