Chai Tea Is Not Just About Sipping Something Delicious

Chai Tea Is Not Just About Sipping Something Delicious

How can you explain the deep significance of something so seemingly simple?

For my very last women's studies class of the semester, we had what my professor calls a "Feast of Resistance," where each person brings in a food or drink that is important to their family or to them and represents a struggle or victory over something in some way. The idea is predicated from the quote "Food is the only language we have in common." (With this I'd disagree, because what about music? I won't get into it now because that would be a whole other article.)

But food is something that people can bond over, across cultures. Food is extremely important. Most of the time, for immigrants who have left their home lands behind, left their families behind, who have to find ways to be themselves in a place that is nothing like them at all, food is the one thing they can control.

Food is often the one thing they have that keeps them connected to that past.

This is great and all, and so my two Indian friends and I brought cake rusk, a sweet Indian snack eaten with chai, but when I stood up there and found myself having to explain the significance of this food (which was more about the significance of chai) I found myself at a loss for words.

How do I begin to explain what chai is? What chai means to me and to my family and to my identity as an Indian? Sure, all my desi readers right now are probably like "Okay, its just chai, chill out dude," and my non-desi readers are like, "Chai? I know what that is, that's good stuff, why can't you explain it? It's just tea."

Except it's not just tea. It's not that simple. Chai holds an incredible amount of significance to my life. Chai, for me, is Saturday mornings with my mom, dad, and brother, right before breakfast. Chai is that warm, sweet, milky concoction running down my throat as we call my grandparents in India over FaceTime.

Chai is the catalyst that opens up a conversation between me and distant relatives coming to visit. Chai with guests is a ritual, one I've come to love because of the connections it creates. Chai is that warm mug of relief when my mom comes home from work on Wednesday evenings. Chai is the first Indian food I learned to make. Chai is the same everywhere, yet so, so different.

There's a science behind the perfect ratios of milk to water to tea leaves to sugar. And then when you're advanced enough, you add ginger, ground black pepper, dried basil, cardamom. A perfect blend, and everyone does it differently. Chai at Nani's house is different from chai at Taiji's house is different from chai at my house is different from the chai my brother makes.

But chai anywhere is a connection. A connection to people, a connection to India, to my parents, grandparents. Chai is so much more than a drink I pick up at Starbucks. Chai is the experience, history, and culture that I call my own.

That's the thing about culture. It's not so much the thing itself, as the meaning surrounding it. No, chai itself isn't that special. Anyone can make chai. Anyone can steep loose tea leaves in water and add milk and make chai. But it's the years of meaning behind chai, the memories, the connections I've formed through chai.

It's the same for any aspect of my Indian culture, whether that's eating dal chawal (lentil soup and rice) with my bare hands, feeling my food before I eat it, or getting dressed up in a lengha, or putting on mehendhi (henna). It's the significance behind each of these artifacts and what they mean to each person and each family.

It's like this in any culture. For me, Christmas is not nearly as special or meaningful as it is for my Christian friends, whose families have celebrated those traditions for so long. They have real memories attached to their Christmas traditions, just as I do with my Indian traditions.

Something about traditions just root us so strongly to our families and culture. These little indulgences into my culture with these traditions, I can't explain in words what they mean to me. I can't explain their significance adequately. But they are so important. It connects me to my grandparents, to my mother and father. It recenters me, grounds me, reminds me who I am and where I come from.

How do you begin to explain something so simple yet so significant?

Cover Image Credit: flickr

Popular Right Now

14 Fraternity Guy Gifts Ideas, Since He Already Has Enough Beer

Frat boys are a species of their own and here are some exciting gifts they will be ecstatic to receive!


What more do frat boys love than alcohol, partying, and just acting stupid? Here are some gifts that help fulfill all of those needs for the frat boy in your life!

1. Beer holster belt

Whats better than one beer? Six beers! This fashionable camouflage accessory can be used for tailgates, beach days, formals and everything in between.

Price: $8.49 (one pack), $14.99 (two pack)

2. Phone juul holder 

You know those cardholders everyone sticks on the back of their phones? Well, now a Juul holder for your phone is on the market! This will save your favorite frat boy from ever again losing his Juul!

Price: $10.98

3. Animal house poster 

This Animal House poster is a classic staple for any frat boy. This poster will compliment any frat house decor or lack thereof.

Price: $1.95

4. The American Fraternity book

Does the frat boy in your life need a good read for Thanksgiving or winter break? Look no farther, this will certainly keep his attention and give him a history lesson on American fraternity heritage and tradition.

Price: $28.46

5. Beer pong socks 

These snazzy socks featuring beer pong will be loved by any frat boy. As for the way to any frat boy's heart may, in fact, be beer pong.

Price: $12.00

6. Condom case

This condom carrying case will not only protect condoms from damage but also make frat boys more inclined to practice safe sex, which is a win-win situation!

Price: $9.99

7. Frat house candle

Ahhh yes, who does not like the smell of stale beer in a dark, musty frat house basement? Frat boys can make their apartment or bedroom back home smell like their favorite place with the help of this candle.

Price: $16.99

8. "Frat" sticker

Frat boys always need to make sure everyone around them knows just how "fratty" they are. This versatile stick can go on a laptop, car, water bottle, or practically anywhere their little hearts desire.

Price: $6.50

9. Natty Light t-shirt 

Even I will admit that this shirt is pretty cool. The frat boy in your life will wear this shirt at every possible moment, it is just that cool!

Price: $38.76-$41.11

10. Natty light fanny pack 

This fanny pack can absolutely be rocked by any frat boy. The built-in koozie adds a nice touch.

Price: $21.85

11. Bud Light Neon Beer Sign 

A neon beer sign will be the perfect addition to any frat boys bedroom.

Price: $79.99

12. Beer Opener

Although most frat boys' go to beers come in cans, this bottle opener will be useful for those special occasions when they buy nicer bottled beers.

Price: $7.99

13. Frat House Dr. Sign

Price: $13.99

Forget stealing random street signs, with this gift frat boys no longer have to do so.

14. Beer Lights 

Lights are an essential for any party and these will surely light up even the lamest parties.

Price: $17.19

Please note that prices are accurate and items in stock as of the time of publication. As an Amazon Associate, Odyssey may earn a portion of qualifying sales.

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

The 8 Best Christmas Movies To Watch With Your Real Life Dysfunctional Family

Not everyone can live in a Hallmark movie.


The holiday season is the busiest time of year for most families. Yet, we all still have time to gather around the perfectly decorated Christmas tree and sing carols, after we just finished decorating cookies as a family; that is if you live in a Hallmark movie.

During my holiday season, there's lots of traveling, a little bit of arguing and everyone is stressed out for one reason or another.

My favorite Christmas movies aren't the cheesy/romantic/boring ones of the Hallmark channel. The best movies are about the big, dysfunctional families that are just like mine.

1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Things can get pretty hectic when the extended family comes over! I'm proud to say that the police have never been called for ours.

2. Elf

Why wouldn't a Christmas movie have a scene where an adult man who thinks he is an elf drinks and dances in the mailroom of the Empire State Building?!

3. A Christmas Story

From Ralphie's family, to his father's leg lamp, there is a lot of dysfunction in this movie.

4. Home Alone

Burglars in a Christmas movie?!

5. Christmas with the Kranks

You wouldn't get to see Tim Allen drag Frosty on the roof with a noose in a Hallmark movie.

6. Jingle All the Way

The struggles of Christmas shopping.

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The Grinch is so relatable in his dysfunction.

8. Daddy's Home 2

So. Much. Dysfunction.

Related Content

Facebook Comments