“I dunno… It’s still not right.”
“I did it exactly as you said this time.”
“Even so, there’s something missing…”
My son has once again asked me to do the impossible. It is, you might think, just a small thing. Something that I should be able to do without the slightest trouble. He wants me to make him a cup of tea.
The problem is that the tea in question is the exotically spiced chai masala with which he fell in love in India and which I have never tasted. For him it is the stuff of memory, conjuring visions of people and places, scents and sounds…if we brew it even close to right.
For me, it is a mystery. I have never been to India. The ‘chai’ I have encountered here is a pallid imitation of the aromatic brew he remembers, redolent with cardamom, cloves and pepper. I do not know what I am supposed to be brewing.
Research online is no help. So far it has yielded a hundred different versions of how best to brew the chai, from starting with the spices and blending your own, to the use of tea bags…which simply do not come close. The proportion of milk to water, the cream content, the time to simmer the spices…every possible variant is available…and we have tried a good many of them. The tea we finally settled upon comes close… but has only yielded a few cups that have held the magic to carry memory across continents.
My son, meanwhile, in his search for the perfect cup of chai, has developed a passion for the stuff. There is what looks suspiciously like an altar to tea in his home, where arcane potions are brewed that fill the air with fragrance. Turmeric, ginger, rose petals and oranges… teas that are green, black and white… a far cry from the classic mahogany brew I grew up with in Yorkshire. There are spices in there that I would never have associated with the tea caddy.
“I know what’s missing,” said my son after another abortive attempt. I was all ears…we have tried just about everything, turning his kitchen into an alchemist’s den and me into a frazzled, frustrated hobbit. “The secret ingredient….”
“Love.” And there it was.
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