Two nights ago, we waited in line for 2 hours in the cold for some inexplicable reason (although, I think it’s known as compromise) to get into La Nuit Americaine down at La Correau du Temple to watch the election coverage. This was after an unsuccessful attempt to get into Harry’s New York Bar.
We got home late and then were up most of the night trying to keep track of the election results. Ultimately, we woke up to a surprising election result, a rainy Paris day, and fatigue. Felt like a good day for something comforting, and in a moment of inspiration I thought – why not a hot cup of chai?
Only problem is, we are in Paris. In MD, I could buy all the supplies a short walk from my apartment and make tea from purchase-to-pour in 30 minutes. Paris is another story altogether.
- Tea and Spices. First, we metro-ed 30 minutes northeast to “Little India” to find an Indian store and pick up tea and spices. I couldn’t find normal loose black tea (?!?!) and went to three more Indian stores before I found it.
- Milk. We ventured back to our arrondissement to our normal grocery store for milk. You might assume this would be easy, but the French do not drink much fresh milk. More commonly, they drink shelf stable milk (located in the water aisle), so fresh milk options are fairly limited and not labeled that clearly. I find a “2%” label really eliminates all ambiguities, but alas, no-go. So after a few minutes of googling, we identified this as what is labeled “Demi–écrémé”
- Sugar. Completely forgot to buy this and just got lucky that were several packets in the apartment.
- Macarons. And what would tea be without a good accompaniment? We headed to Laduree, the famous Parisian pastry shop known for macarons, to pick up several for home.
So, a mere 3 hours later, we finally had two cups of hot chai to sip. I can’t easily articulate why it’s the perfect comfort drink, but it is. Whereas coffee is a little more instant gratification, and what-is-that-noise, is-it-someone-speaking-to-me-before-I’ve-had-my-coffee, chai – and the process of making it – is much more meditative.
“Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?”
And it’s very personal. Everyone has their own way of making it and their preferred mix of spices. My sister’s chai is my favorite for two reasons: 1) she makes it and 2) she doesn’t make it overly sweet. S has a version that has been perfected for an American palette – heavy on milk and sugar, light on tea. My version isn’t too sweet, but I make it a little bit sweeter and spicier if I’m not drinking alone (compromise). I use always use cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, experiment with peppercorn and fennel from time to time, and sometimes use honey or agave nectar instead of sugar.
In the end, it was totally worth the trouble. C’est délicieux.