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Making Chai For My Grandfather

BY AMAL BUMBIA (staff writer)

Skim milk.

It is smooth, both in flavor and texture.

I pour it into the small, nonstick pot on the stove.


I turn the stove on.

I watch as briefly orange flames morph into tall blue wisps.

I turn down the dial to its lowest setting.

The flames shrink.

As the milk heats, I take three containers out of the cupboard beside me– a long one containing broken cinnamon sticks, a round one of cardamom, a wide one of clove.

I drop a piece of cinnamon into the milk alongside a single clove. Two cracked cardamoms follow, hitting the base of the pot with a brief metallic ring upon falling in.

The milk warms. The sweet, musky aroma of the spices permeates through the kitchen, albeit tempered by the mellower milk.

If I were making this for myself, I would add honey to sweeten the mixture.

Instead, I slip my hand into a jar of teabags.

The filter feels rough between my fingers. The tea inside, even more so.

Dried and broken black tea leaves.

I lift a bag to my nose and breathe it in.

Bright, yet smoky.

Three tea bags are what my grandfather prefers, so I place them into the spiced milk.

A minute later, the pale milk begins to stain a light brown. Ribbons of the warm color trail from the ends of each tea bag before dispersing throughout the liquid.

I leave the stove.

After an hour, the milk has long since boiled. It is now a warm brown and smells akin to fresh-cut wood with light floral undertones. A darker, congealed film rests upon the surface.

I twist the dial, and the flames die.

I turn to grab a mug resting on the counter.

I open the nearest drawer and retrieve a mesh sieve.

When the finished chai is poured through, I am left with a cup filled to the brim with the warm drink and a sieve containing the discarded tea bags, cinnamon, clove, and cardamom.

I throw away the latter and lift the former to my lips.

I take a quick sip.

Unlike its welcoming aroma, the chai itself is full-bodied and deeply bitter.

My tongue curls.

But I know my grandfather will like it.

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