Most of us remember the first time we rode a bicycle. That moment you looked back and realized nobody was holding it and you were riding it, when you knew it was all you. That rush when you realize a warm feeling is spreading from your chest to the tips of your toes – a feeling you can only describe as being free.
There exist a million moments like these, ones we want to relive again and again. Keepsakes and rituals are the closest we get to experience a moment like that all over.
For my parents, one such ritual was sharing a cup of coffee at 7 a.m., every day. Watching them throw their everything into enjoying that moment made me want to experience it too.
This is the story about that anti-climatic coffee moment and how I found my true love in a cup of tea, despite being raised in a coffee-obsessed culture.
The Coffee Ninjas in Apartment B1
The Madras filter coffee is almost a pious entity. Watching my mother go through the morning ritual of preparing coffee is poetry by itself. At 7 a.m., shed put the water to boil, fill the filter with fresh ground beans and turn the radio on.
While the monotonous male voice relayed the winning of an Olympic gold and a bomb blast with equal enthusiasm, my entire house would be filled with the scent of fresh brewing coffee. My parents would then sip it in silence while they read the newspaper. For those 15 minutes, they were Shaolin monks in their zen mode. My brother could have flushed me down a toilet, the radio man could narrate his own death in a shootout; nothing would faze them.
They were the sky gods before a thunderstorm.
They were meditating priests preparing for a battle.
They were goddamn ninjas snorting caffeine.
It is impossible not to want coffee if you watched how calm it made them. All I wanted was to be a caffeine-snorting ninja as well. Just one problem.
Coffee is terrible and I hated it right from the first sip.
The bitterness numbed my tongue and made it impossible to taste anything for a while. It made my breath smell funny and worse, it made me hyper though I was tired. For the life of me, I couldnt comprehend why people drank copious amounts of this swill every day, much less enjoy it.
Zen be damned. Id rather inject chocolate milk into my veins than drink coffee.
The Crude Tea Tutelage
The following incident occurred several years after my tryst with coffee, when I was an old and wary woman of 14. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon and my best friend, let us call her Shiro, gave me a distress call. It was probably important, considering Shiro is a very happy kid.
Ten minutes later, she was home. She looked pretty down and while I wanted to cheer her up, I had no idea how to. I am a little awkward in situations like this. Naturally, my brain started generating a plethora of foot-in-mouth things I could say that may upset her further.
Fantastic, now she is sad and I am stressed. I needed to relax and get her relaxed. I needed to zen. I could offer her coffee, but that would be like punishing the poor girl for being sad.
Do you want some chai?, I blurted out.
For the next twenty minutes, we didnt say much. We watched the strong Assam tea turn the water into a deep hue of amber. We basked in the sharp scent of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger brewing with the tea.
Then came the milk. I mean, is there anything more beautiful than the sight of milk welling up and filling in the black voids in a cup of tea?
I don’t remember much of that day, what I said or what she said. I don’t think Shiro herself remembers. But I remember us sitting on the cool, red terracotta tiles on my terrace, watching trees sway in a distance. I remember my first sip of tea – spicy, soothing, sweet and refreshing, all at once.
Shiros problem wasn’t gone, neither was my fear of saying the wrong thing. But at that moment, we were both at peace. Complete, total peace. And as long as we had that cup of tea and someone to talk to, things were going to be fine. We were going to be fine.
That was the moment I found my zen. And the moment I completely fell for tea.
The Way of the Tea
The world will always be divided between tea and coffee. Coffee is a like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. A burst of energy that riles you up but fades just as quickly. It fast food, a drug, a temporary 15 minute fix every morning.
But tea? Tea is a ritual. It is a million little moments to yourself that help you get through the day. It slows you down and gives you perspective. Tea is patience, it is meditation.
9 years and hundreds of cups of chai have passed since that day in the terrace. But to me, the comfort and well-being a cup of tea provides hasn’t changed. I hope it never does.