one of the clients i worked with the past three years was a refugee who came to minnesota by the way of nepal. some of the most fulfilling experiences during my time of case management was interacting with different immigrants or refugees, learning about their culture, and giving them the space to tell me about their journeys... which are often incomprehensible. during my first visit to this client's home his daughter-in-law made my interpreter and i a noodle dish after i finished my assessment. she repeated this gesture at my visit the following year. during my third--and what would be my final visit with this client--last month, she made my interpreter and i something to drink. i watched her move about in the kitchen nook out of the corner of my eye as my interpreter and i conversed casually, and she presented it to us proudly in fine china teacups a few minutes later.
i am not a tea drinker. i am not a specialty-coffee drinker. i brew plain coffee every morning in my apartment. i would bring it to work in a travel mug and refill it for seconds (and sometimes thirds, depending on how the day was going) from the coffee machines in my office building. i don't know a lot about brewed beverages and i didn't know what to expect from what my client's daughter-in-law made me... but i welcomed the gesture and found that it was delicious. creamy, smooth, warm--not hot--with perfectly complementary spices. i had to know what this beverage was! she described it to me as boiled water with black tea, powdered milk, and spices. my interpreter confirmed this is a common beverage in their culture. i went home that night and googled these ingredients to try to determine what this beverage was and how i could replicate it. all of my searches came up with the same answer: chai. black tea brewed with a mixture of indian spices, and when combined with steamed milk it becomes a chai latte.
for christmas, i received some magazines in my stocking, including the january 2014 issue of oprah's o magazine. in an article at the very end titled, "tea time" oprah describes how she learned of chai from a family of five in india. oprah explains, "...[they] proceeded to brew me the most incredible cup of chai i've ever experienced was it the pungent mix of spices or the openhearted welcome that made it so unforgettable?" sound familiar? oprah ended her trip, like i ended my home visit, with an urgent desire to incorporate this beverage into her life. she began experimenting with making chai tea and has settled on a recipe that reminds her of the chai made for her by the indian family that means something special to her and the people she has begun to share it with in her daily life.
on new years day, my sister and i ventured down the block to our local caribou coffee to take advantage of their BOGO special and try their version of a chai latte. it definitely didn't have the same taste as the chai my client's daughter-in-law made me (too much cinnamon), but it felt good to try something new. i'm kind of all about trying new things in 2014, even if it's something as simple as going to a coffee shop... because that's just something i never do. i'm too much a creature of habit to jump up in the middle of the afternoon and say, "hey! let's go get coffee!" but doing just that last week felt good... like i still have the ability to be spontaneous and surprise myself.
so, i'll start with this. maybe i'll try the chai latte at starbucks or dunn brothers, or maybe i'll advance to making chai myself like my client's daugther-in-law, like oprah. if oprah can make her own chai, i think i can too. and each time i do, i'll be reminded of the version my client's daughter-in-law made me and how it prompted me to explore and relate and try something new. §