The Importance of Food Rituals
We all have food rituals that are important to us. It might be enjoying something sweet at the end of a meal, savoring a snack in peace and quiet after the kids have gone to bed, relishing a glass of wine with dinner, eating a certain food in a certain way (my husband, for instance, likes to cut up his spaghetti rather that twirl it around a fork), the list is endless.
Unless these rituals damage your health or impede other aspects of your life, I believe that these habits are an incredibly valuable part of our individual relationship with food. They are a way for us to connect with our food, to celebrate it, and to enjoy it even more fully. Many times, they also honor the emotional side of food, those deep connections to people or memories that mean so much.
If you stop and think about the food rituals in your life, I bet many of them have a story behind them. I have a friend, for instance, who loves his coffee super, super sweet. It turns out that this is due to the fact that when he was a kid, his parents really wanted to play bridge and needed two other people to play with them. So, when he was quite young, they started teaching the game to him and his brother. They would play at night, after the other kids had gone to bed, and in order to help the two boys stay up late, his mom would give them super sweet coffee. To this day, he loves family game nights and super sweet coffee.
My Journey to Homemade Chai
For me, one of the most important daily rituals when it comes to food is enjoying a hot drink as part of the start of my day. Whether it is 10 or 100 degrees outside, if I haven’t started the day with a warm drink the whole day feels a bit off.
I’m not alone in this food ritual. In fact, one of the reasons it means so much to me is that it is a family ritual. As my mom says, “one of the greatest joys in life is the first sip of tea in the morning.”
Each morning, when my whole family is together, there is a dance that happens in the kitchen as we all make our ritual warm morning drink. For my dad, it is black coffee, for my mom and brother black tea, for my husband coffee with milk and sugar, and for me it is homemade chai.
Giving Up Caffeine
For years, caffeinated black tea was my morning drink of choice. I loved the ritual of steeping it (the anticipation was kind of the best part) and then adding just the right amount of milk and sugar.
Then, in college, I started getting bad neckaches and the insomnia I had struggled with throughout adolescence got much worse. After trying a bunch of different solutions, my mom suggested trying to cut out caffeine. The idea of giving up my morning cup of tea was hard to face, but the neck tension and exhaustion were not something I wanted to live with anymore.
So I gave up caffeine. Unfortunately, the insomnia continued for another few years (that’s a story for another post), but the neck pain disappeared within a few days! I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing!
For a few days I coasted on relief, but then I realized I was missing that warm drink at the beginning of my day. It didn’t feel like I was starting off on the right foot. So I began the search for a replacement beverage.
Decaffeinated tea was a sometimes option, but finding good tea wasn’t always easy, so I landed on hot chocolate.
For years I had hot chocolate every morning, and it is still often my drink of choice at a coffee shop, but after a while the sweetness started to lose its appeal. I wanted something more interesting, more dynamic that would really wake me up in the morning.
That is when I discovered decaf Bhakti chai on a trip home to Boulder. It was love at first sip. The spiciness from the ginger, the gentle sweetness (less clawingly sweet than some of the other brands out there), the deep flavor from the other spices felt like a wonderful way to start the day. I was hooked.
There was only one problem: I couldn’t find Bhakti chai in the DC area, which meant I was going to have to special order it, which was super expensive.
I tried some other brands that I did have access to (there aren’t many brands that make a decaf variety) and none of them drew me in the way Bhakti chai had, so I decided to start playing around to see if I could brew it myself.
After a few lackluster attempts, I finally came up with what I think is the perfect blend of spicy, robust, and sweet. I have been making this chai recipe now for at least 5 years and I love it even more today than I did when I first came up with this recipe.
While it may not have the zip of caffeine (although you can easily make yours caffeinated), the ginger and other spices definitely bring color into the world for me each morning.
This chai has become such a staple in my life that it actually now has two food rituals associated with it: my morning drink and the weekly preparation. Taking the time each weekend to prepare it has come to feel like an act of self-care and one that I value deeply.
I hope that this chai brings you as much comfort and joy as it has brought me.
- 6 inches fresh ginger grated or chopped, grated for spicier chai, roughly chop for less spicy. I like to use my mini-prep food processor to quickly grate the ginger.
- 4 tsp. whole black peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp. whole cloves
- 1 tsp. whole cardamom
- 4 3-inch cinnamon sticks
- 12 bags black tea ideally Darjeeling, Irish Breakfast, or English Breakfast. Note: Earl Gray will give it a distinct flavor
- ½ cup brown sugar optional
- 2 cups milk (any variety) for serving
- In a large pot, combine the ginger, peppercorns, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon. Add 12 cups water. Bring the pot to a boil and then turn the heat to medium and let it cook, bubbling gently, for 25 minutes with the lid off.
- Turn off the heat, add the tea bags, and let it steep for 5 minutes.
- Scoop out the tea bags and add the sugar (if using). Stir well so that the sugar dissolves.
- Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the tea into a large bowl or pitcher. Serve immediately by filling a mug 2/3 of the way and then topping off with your favorite type of milk, or bring to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator for up to a week.