Cook, Eat, Repeat Challenge: A Drink to Cherish

                                                   Tea/Chai/Cha:  Call what you will

Thin frozen puddles crackle under my boots and as I have, once again, forgotten to wear the gloves, my hands almost freeze the moment my fingers touch the icy steering. It had rained last night and the below zero temperatures turned the tiny droplets of water into a beautiful work of art, resembling a fern. I quickly get out of the car to take a photo and turn on the wiper to give it a couple of quick swishes and my boy and I are off to school. Winter has made itself comfortable here in New Jersey and while snow days have been few and far in between, the early morning frost has been a regular visitor.

As I drive back home after dropping the kiddo off at school, I suddenly have this urge to make myself a cup of tea the moment I get home..but not the simple one I am used to drinking. I want to sip on a more aromatic version, one that is steeped in milk and sugar and has a hint of ginger and cardamom, giving it that heady smell that easily transports me to some cold evenings in my hometown of Calcutta, railway stations, the joy of stopping at one of the many tea stalls scattered throughout this grand old city for a refreshing sip of the city’s famous ‘bhaar cha(bhaar– Bengali for handmade tea cups that are typically made of clay and have been used for serving ‘cha’ -Bengali for tea, that is sold on the streets throughout India and definitely Calcutta, where Bengali is the native language).

e2fe0202-10e4-447f-b157-a5d19ae2c195This is what bhaars look like in a typical tea stall in Calcutta. Notice some plastic jars to the right of the photo- these usually hold biscuits and other tidbits to accompany the cha that keeps boiling (see the big pan) for as long as the stall remains open to never return a customer. These are rustic road side tea stalls and cater to people from all walks of life. The tea is then poured into kettles like the ones seen here and it goes around filling up these tiny bhaars.

 

I hear from friends and family that bhaars are rapidly disappearing from the streets, railway stations, train cars and even street corners and getting replaced by the awful plastic everywhere in India. My city is no exception but I hear she still perseveres; probably an example of its unshakable love for the quintessential past that gets reflected in the contemporary lifestyle of the youth and creates a unique juxtaposition of tradition and modernity.

Calcutta has been called ‘a city with soul’ (Vir Sangvi) and I couldn’t agree more. Not because it is my city, my birthplace, a place that has seen me through my best and worst and embraced me with a warm hug every time I have visited it in the last 13 years but because it is true. As true as the sun that rises everyday. There is a warmth of emotions that reigns supreme and lets you drown in the genuineness of passion. And the clay cups, the bhaar’s are a testament to that. The often rickety benches at these tea stalls have been a seat of powerful discussions about art and culture, about sports ranging from the gully cricket to that played by the likes of Gavaskar and Viv Richards, about political ideologies that have had people miss their last bus for home. When you walk along the side walks of Calcutta, you might find, in some, such bhaars crunching under your foot. You see, it is said and believed that after slurping on that aromatic concoction, people smash it on the ground to return the clay to the earth from which it was made. I have never done that myself as every tea stall has a bin meant for throwing the bhaars there, but I have surely stepped on broken clay pieces a great number of times. While it does not speak to the ‘keep your city clean’ banners and posters that are seen splashed all over the city, it certainly speaks to the emotional side of bhaar cha lovers.

If you ever visit my beautiful city or any other lovely city in India, you should try sipping on this tea, that aside from being intoxicating, also has an earthy flavor distinctive of its holder that may or may not transport you to the bygone days but which would definitely make you pause a bit. And if you are lucky, you might get to experience that on a rainy day when that earthy smell of the rain will act as the perfect setting for your bhaar cha experience.

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The sweet concoction that is far superior to any chai tea/ masala chai that is sold in the supermarkets and cafes in the Western World and I say this not just out of my love for this! These photos were taken by my brother yesterday of the local tea stall near my parents’ flat in Calcutta. Thank you, my dear brother:)

 

I digress.

The well heated kitchen of our apartment about 8000 miles away from the streets of Calcutta is not a place for that experience. Nor are the cups. But I still made that tea and while it lacked the heady smell of the rain, or that of the kettle that is usually black from being on the stove all day long, as boiling milk and tea pour down the sides, it was satisfying nonetheless. The western world has a version of this tea “the masala chai”or the “chai tea”, but the bhaar cha of Calcutta differs.

So, as I was pondering about what to share with you on my first post at Cook, Eat, Repeat and what to hear from you about, I could not think of anything better than drinks that comfort you, that transport you to a different place maybe, that bring joy to you, that you cherish occasionally. It maybe something that you sip on everyday or something that is reserved for special days. Or something that you stir up with memories from days gone by. It could be anything. Anything that makes you smile.

Please share your own memory, an anecdote or just the recipe of your favorite drink or drinks and let’s all toast to a wonderful New Year!

Here’s the recipe for two cups of Calcutta style ‘bhaar cha’. I must note that there are quite a few versions of this and so to claim that this is THE ‘bhaar cha’ will be incorrect. Many also add cloves and cinnamon.  Tea that is typically sold as “Chai Tea or Masala Tea” here in the Western World  is similar to the more aromatic version with cloves and cinnamon. But this recipe is a much lighter, yet fragrant enough version. I, for one, do not like the smell of clove or cinnamon in my tea and hence always omit those when making myself a cuppa! So, if you are like me too, go ahead and give this a try and I hope you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s how you make it

Serving size – 2 cups
Total Time  –  About 10-12 mins

Ingredients–   Lipton Tea bags: 4

                Water: 1 cup

                 Milk: 1 cup

                 Cardamom: 2 pieces

                 Ginger: a quarter inch, smush it a little with the back of a spoon.

                Sugar: 3 tsps (less or more depending on your sweet tooth)

Method  –  Add water in a saucepan and to it, add the cardamom and ginger. Let it boil on the stove top for 3-4 mins on a low flame so that the flavors from the spices are released. Increase the heat and bring the water to a boil.  This may take another minute or so. Then, add the milk and carefully let it bubble. Add the tea bags (I cut open the tea bags and pour out the tea into the saucepan) and sugar and boil on high for a quick minute till the liquid is almost about to pour out of the pan. Lower the heat and partially cover the pan with a lid and let it simmer for about 3-4 mins. You have to watch it carefully so as not to let the tea spill over and leave you with a very sticky saucepan and stove top. You will notice that the tea might change color from a brown to a darker brown (almost orange-ish). Strain it. Let it cool a bit and taste for sweetness.

You might have to make it a couple of times to get the perfect balance of sweetness from the sugar and the flavor from the spices. Neither should be overpowering!

As I had mentioned previously, this is a version of the Calcutta “bhaar cha” that I prefer…a bit subtle yet flavorful enough to be enjoyed on a cold day:)

I remembered to take a photo only after I had taken quite a few sips!

 

This is a monthly challenge so you will have the whole of January to share anything you like on your favorite drink/s. You are more than welcome to share more than just one drink recipe! I will be posting through the month about drinks that are my favorite and I am looking forward to hearing from you. What’s your favorite cocktail? What do you like to drink after a stressful day? Is there a special drink that is reserved for your most important people? What’s your favorite beverage from your childhood days? What’s your favorite holiday drink? Are you a tea or a coffee person? It can be anything! The recipes don’t necessarily have to be original as long as you share them with due permission from whose the original recipe is/ share the link to the blog/website you are sharing the recipe from.

Here’s how to participate…pretty much standard stuff!

  • Create your own post with your recipe, story, photosanything that you might wish to share that represents the theme of the month.
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or maybe leave a link in the comment section.
  • Join whenever you can!
  • Visit some of the other posts shared.

Cheers and thanks for stopping by!

 

21 thoughts on “Cook, Eat, Repeat Challenge: A Drink to Cherish

  1. Forestwood says:

    The bhaar char history was so interesting. A drink steeped in so much tradition (excuse the pun!). It looks like a bit more work to create this drink than the usual cup of tea, but I think I will try it when I get some root ginger next time. (I don’t often use it). And as I usually drink black tea with no sugar or milk, I will have to adjust my taste sensations a little.
    But I love the idea of this challenge. I look forward to next months and reading more about your chosen drinks this month. Well done. I will post my link below.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acacophonouslife says:

      This is so wonderful! I am making this over the weekend and will share pictures with you:) This looks delicious and i LOVE that tea cup and saucer set. I have a little eggnog story from when I had it for the first time during a Christmas about ten years ago…am going to be sharing that soon too! Thank you so very much for your participation….it truly means a whole lot!

      Like

      • Forestwood says:

        No worries at all, Moon. It was my pleasure to participate. I look forward to reading your post to hear whether you liked itor not. What did your think of the alcoholic version?

        Like

  2. Manja Mexi Mexcessive says:

    What a great idea, Moon. I really hope your challenge sticks and you get plenty of responses from all over the world. I like the fact that it’s a monthly challenge and I can choose the perfect time for me to post.

    What I find very interesting is that the Slovenian word for tea is čaj, pronounced chai. Whether it’s black, green, fruit – we call it the same, čaj. I haven’t tasted it yet the way you describe it (I have not travelled to Asia at all yet or visited many Indian restaurants).

    Until I write my post, here is an interesting photo series on India which you might have seen or not. I have only started to explore it. Suzanne & Pierre are a couple that travel a lot and this is just their first post on India, followed by 34 more. Guess where they started their India travels? 🙂 I hope you enjoy.

    https://parisexpat2012.wordpress.com/2019/11/19/kolkata/

    Liked by 1 person

    • acacophonouslife says:

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement, Manja! I will be looking forward to your post:) And …what a closely knit world this is …right??
      I loved seeing pictures of my city and I thank you deeply for sharing this with me! Take a look at this link – http://virsanghvi.com/Article-Details.aspx?key=858 when you have some time and you might get a sense of the city that is also a little more than chaotic, noisy and dilapidated! I hope they got to see some of that as well:) It is a beautiful photo series and made me nostalgic and my heart swelled with love and gratitude. And thank you again, dear Manja…I can never get tired of looking at photos of my birthplace…a place I still call home, because it will always be home! I am going to pop over to their other posts now!! Hugs ❤ ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Manja Mexi Mexcessive says:

        I have started to read from the link you give and this is just beautiful: “Calcutta embodies the Bengali love of culture; the triumph of intellectualism over greed; the complete transparency of all emotions, the disdain with which hypocrisy and insincerity are treated; the warmth of genuine humanity; and the supremacy of emotion over all other aspects of human existence.” This sounds like you and you are beautiful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • acacophonouslife says:

        I am so glad you liked it! And Calcutta does embody and reflect this strange and beautiful supremacy of emotion that in turn informs much of its everyday narrative. It can be, and is, counter productive at times but she seems to carry it with a grace and fervor that is quite unmatched! HUGS!

        Liked by 1 person

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