During the pandemic, I started supporting (in a greater number, anyway) smaller, minority owned food businesses. It was also an added bonus if these small food businesses were owned by women. One of the businesses that I discovered via Instagram that I absolutely loved was The Chai Box. It is a small chai company that is based in Atlanta and owned by a female Indian American who immigrated to the US from India when she was a young girl. I love the story behind how her business got started: she and her husband raised three sons in Atlanta and after school, when the kids would come home with their friends, she would make chai for all of them to enjoy with their after school snacks. Their kids’ friends enjoyed the chai so much that they would go home and tell their parents about it. Then, at school events or sports games, the kids’ moms would ask about how she makes her chai. A number of them offered to pay her for her blends. So initially she started gifting and selling them to these moms and family friends. Gradually it became an actual business — their family business. They source all of their tea from India, and all of their spices, which are crazy fresh, are sourced from small, fair trade businesses in Kerala, the state where Chris’s family originates. They also are all hand picked and do not use pesticides.
I especially love her chai meditation, which she does every single morning when she is not traveling for work in her beautiful kitchen. She records herself in her Instagram story making chai, always a slightly different version, and then she records the pour and insists that you make time for you. Her time to herself is her daily morning chai meditation. I watch it every single day, no fail. I actually find it very soothing, particularly the #ASMR from the heat aeration as well as the pouring of the chai into the pot and cup. I have learned a lot about chai just from following her Instagram handle and watching her daily chai meditation. She says that when you add spices to hot boiling water, you know how fresh they are if the water changes into a faint golden or brown color. And she always says that chai is not chai unless you do a double boil: first, you boil the water and add the tea leaves or spices and boil; and then you do a second boil once you add your milk of choice and let simmer. My favorite blends that she does so far are the Punjaban Party and Hill Station.
Well, I thought about her rule of thumb that spices are not fresh unless they change the water color in boiling water. One morning this week, I decided to make chai the way I used to make it before I started buying her blends by using my Dilmah teabags, a slice of ginger, as well as some crushed cardamom pods, fennel seeds, and clove. My pot was too dark for me to see if there was a color change, but when I tasted the chai, it really fell flat: the richness of both the spices as well as the tea was really so inferior to her blends that there was genuinely no comparison at all. It was like I was knowingly giving myself subpar chai. Making chai in the morning a few times a week is like my little indulgence for myself in the midst of the massive fatigue and chaos in raising a baby: I love doing the double boil as well as the heat aeration, and that first sip always hits the spot. Even when I made matcha, which I love, a few times a week in the last few weeks, that has been nowhere as satisfying as my first sip of chai each morning when I make it. It is definitely a process, one that takes time and patience to do right, but one that I really love and look forward to.