One Thing America Could Never Provide

I look at the cup filled with cappuccino in my hand, and a part of me laughs. I am shocked at my own choice of beverage.

Sitting in the library, exhausted after a day full of classes and assignments and projects (it is that time of the semester, again), I had to take a caffeine-break, a desperately needed one. I knew I had to pick coffee over tea. Not because I am a coffee-person; I have always avoided it, until now. Not because a cup of tea wasn’t available; it was, in fact, very much available, going by the name of ‘chai tea.' Specifically the words, ‘chai tea’ are why I neither got chai nor tea.

chai = tea

=> chai + tea = tea tea = chai chai = tea chai = chai tea = ‘Can I have one
small cappuccino please?’

This isn’t the worse though. I was once presented with a glass full of iced liquid in the name of tea. Well, tea, I realized, which was interpreted as iced tea.

Hunting down real chai is the major highlight of my seven-month stay in the US. From Raleigh to New York City, the ghost of Pakistani chai has haunted me, challenging me to find a replacement. Trust me, there isn’t one (Pro Tip: Dunkin' Donuts knows a bit about tea, I think). No, you do not heat up water (without even waiting for it boil, really?) and add a FLAVORED tea bag to call it chai. And no, you definitely don’t use vanilla-flavored milk for it.

So I take a sip from the warm, clean paper cup, and smile. I know I’ll throw it away before I drink the full cup. I miss the feel of the chinaware in my hands.

I miss that cruel sip... The last sip you take from a cup of chai, that unintentional, accidental sip, which you immediately regret for it brings all the grains of tea into your mouth, spoiling the taste of one full cup...

In Pakistan, when you’re studying, even if in a library, you can get your drug in a few minutes’ time. All you need is to walk up to a random restaurant-ish place at the corner of a street, sit on a charpoy or a plastic chair with one of its legs half-broken, scream for a cup of chai, and in a minute or two you’ll find yourself holding a demitasse with streaks of hot brownish chai (not chai tea) at its sides, making it look dirty, yet so beautiful... I miss those broken chairs and unclean cups.

It is 10 p.m. The library hours are over. I’m done for the day. I walk out, throwing the half-empty cup in a trash can on my way. ‘You cannot replace chai.’

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