One of my favorite aspects of Indian culture so far is the art of tea time.
Everyday at 4 pm, without fail, our dining hall opens to serve masala chai for an hour.
The Hindi word chai means tea. Our American habit of calling it chai tea (literally tea tea) refers to the strong, spicy, and milky masala version. Combinations of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and black pepper, among others, provide the flavor. The spices, tea leaves, milk, and water are boiled together and strained just before serving.
Here at Tagore House (where we ISA and many other international students stay), tea time contributes to the relaxing pattern of the summer day. Breakfast at 8, class from 10 to 11 or 1 (depending on the day), lunch at 12:30, tea at 4, dinner at 7. We (half)joke that all we do here is eat!
I’ve found that mid-afternoon tea also helps break the day up into more productive chunks. Rather than facing a menacing six hour, inevitable Facebook-stalking and Pinterest or Stumble Upon binge, we have two smaller periods which encourage productivity.
Meal times draw people together. As tea time is the most relaxed, it becomes the time when people linger. Wisdom is passed, travel stories are shared, plans are made, and much laughter ensues. The best conversations happen at tea time.
So, here’s to my daily (three) cups of masala chai.
When I get back to the States, my door will be open for 4 pm chai.