Like poetry, tea,
bit light or dark and bitter,
Like poetry, tea,
Like poetry, tea,
bit light or dark and bitter,
As a lover of both, it’s one of the biggest dilemmas I face in a gathering. Most people are either tea drinkers or coffee fanatics. I understand that. However, I come from a long history of tea estate owners and workers who used to wake up to the decadent smell of dewy tea leaves outside their windows, and who washed down their morning carbohydrates with a steaming pot of black tea. To say I’m a tea lover is like saying the Joker is eccentric. It’s moot.
That said, I also partly come from a society that relies on the laxative power of coffee to kickstart their day and metabolism. A hot cup of flutter coffee infused with sugar and milk is the stable beverage of a typical south Indian household.
And so when choosing one, I struggle like a mother being forced to choose between husband and child. While the former leads to the discovery of the other, the other only increases her passion for the first.
I like tea. I like coffee. And I always struggle to choose between the two.
So for a long time, I made a compromise in such a way that I give both of them equal importance in my life. Instant black coffee served as the first dregs of fuel for my engine, kicking off the day, whereas a cup of tea became my standard breakfast. Afternoons were dedicated to either lemon tea or black filtered coffee, depending on the weather, while the other one became my regular dinnertime beverage. Some days lemon tea went with lunch and some days with dinner. Either way, I was sure to get enough of both in a day.
Then I went to Melbourne for the first time, the coffee capital of Australia. It offered me some of the best-tasting coffees I’ve had in my life. Not to mention affordable, even in the central business district (CBD). However, that wasn’t the most noteworthy thing about Melbourne. Aside from the impeccable coffee, I discovered a strange thing called dirty chai.
One of my American colleagues (who was visiting Australia) introduced me to the miracle that is the dirty chai. I had no idea that you could mix tea and coffee and end up with a concoction so addictive and mesmerising that it’s unbelievable it’s not more prevalent.
Yet, there it was—a simple brew of stewed tea leaves and a shot of espresso, melded to create a beverage that not only thrills the tastebuds but also satisfies, satiates, the penduluming soul of the tea-coffee lover.
It’s one of the many reasons to love Melbourne. It has such good coffee that it transforms a plain chai into a dirty chai that you’d love to cuddle between your palms, taking in one of the world’s best fusion creations.
I jerked awake, surprised and irritated at the same time. A blinding light pierced my eyelids forcing me to look away, and only then did I realise that the comforting darkness had disappeared from our room. It was dawn, perhaps.
I felt another sharp jab in my ribs before I saw the cause. My cousins around me mirrored m uncertainty. Two large plump fingers reached out and grabbed three of us by the neck.
I’d dreamt of this moment, I won’t lie. For months shut up in that room, I’ve wondered what the outside looked like, and each day the plump fingers came, I wished to go along. I was disappointed every time. Until now.
Now, however, I was anxious. Are all three of us going, I wondered. What if they threw me back in, casting me away with the rest of my family? Oh, the shame of rejection. I can’t bear to face my cousins again.
But I needn’t have worried. The fingers took all three of us, and before we could absorb our surroundings, dropped us into a large glass jug.
Everything was so massive. I now saw that the fingers were attached to a big red arm and a round body. A speck of dark hair rested on a what looked like an inverted pot, stiff handles for ears.
I turned to the other side. From my place in the jug, I faced brown tables spread across the room. More round bodies with potheads. Some were big, some small. There was even one clutching something fluffy to its chest. A few sat while most stood, holding cups or bottles and fiddling with flashy cards between their fingers.
I couldn’t see much clearly. They were all mouthing at each other. I heard nothing, of course, but apparently they did and understood too.
I still couldn’t comprehend my place in this situation. What was this place? The moment I was picked, I knew I was about to fulfil my destiny—whatever that was. All along I’d dreamt of getting out of the box, but only now did it dawn on me that I’d never imagined what I’d do once I got out. Perhaps deep down, I never saw beyond the inside of that dank room.
Just then, the familiar red arm approached our jug. I opened my mouth, ready to ask what it all meant. Before I could utter anything, though, boiling steam hit my eye and water crushed my lungs siphoning the air out of me.
I inhaled in panic, and I felt myself rise towards the jug’s rim. I hadn’t seen this coming. Then again, I hadn’t seen anything. Beside me, my silent cousins were struggling too. We’d never spoken before, but just then, our eyes locked for a fleeting moment before I saw their colours vanish. They descended, swaying as they sunk to the bottom.
It was too much. I had no air left, and my organs were weighing me down. They felt heavier than I ever thought they could. My breath rasped as the world spun. My heart was telling me to give up. My brain already had.
And so I let go of my limp body, floating away with the water’s steam. The wind was pulling me further from the jug, but I managed a last glance before being swept away. As the arm fished our bodies from the jug, I saw what we’d left behind: a reddish concoction with a tinge of mint. And I understood. Perhaps that was my destiny—refreshing the sore.
I walked out of the doctor’s room, dazed. Nothing made sense anymore. Of all the people I knew, I was meticulous, and the most watchful about what I eat and drink.
Some would say I bordered on neurotic obsession. I’d be mindful not to overindulge in deep-fried butter or pigs in a blanket blanketed with pork fat. And yet, there I was, despite stringent diets and careful observations, holding a report that deemed my cholesterol levels nigh too high.
At 22, I knew no one as careful with their diet as I. I had to, too—diabetes, heart complications, blood pressure, and a hint of a brain tumour induced comma, all clogged my mother’s bloodline. I inherited, along with a few crumbling, unintelligible letters and premature graying, a lengthy list of disorders that could make my adult life miserable.
Therefore I took enough precautions to keep diseases away for as long as I could. I succeeded too-by choosing more fiber-rich alternatives to white rice and flour. I thrived on vegetables, millets, red rice, and bananas. Lamb meat and chicken were occasional because we’d get fresh meat every time I visited my parents.
Life seemed good-except for my weakness for peanut brittle, I’d become comfortable without artificial sugar, empty carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats.
And then came the verdict: high cholesterol.
My doctor denied medicines. He suggested I stick to a proper diet, instead, and that everything should be fine then. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits, he said. “Eat,” he cupped his palm to indicate portion control, “but don’t overeat, meat. And get regular exercise, too” he raised his eyebrows at me, who hasn’t skipped yoga even for a day in the last five years.
What he didn’t know, and wouldn’t listen either, is that I’d been doing everything he said since 19.
Still, something had to change, I knew. Sure, I was cautious, but caution wasn’t enough anymore. I looked through my habits yet again. I was taking eggs and a generous amount of milk every day, in addition to a decent amount of meat every week, and a tad bit too much of it every two weeks. It seemed to me that I wasn’t distributing my meals as efficient as I should, and because of that, I was getting too much of one thing and too little of the other.
Oh, trust me, you can have a careful diet and still be way off course.
I tried quitting eggs. It wasn’t hard because I never liked them much anyway. They involved too much work cleaning up without a stink that it was a relief not to deal with that anymore.
I felt good.
I wanted to keep feeling good and forget the fiasco that was my cholesterol.
I tried quitting milk. It would’ve failed had I woken up one day and stopped drinking tea altogether. It would’ve driven me mad. Instead, I switched to low-fat milk. I scanned labels analysing differences between skimmed milk, 2%, and fortified milk. But I soon learnt the risks of skimmed milk, and not too long afterwards, the vague health verdicts on milk altogether. I realised it could do more harm than good. From full-cream milk, to skim, to skim milk powder, I hopped on and off, before getting tired of them all.
Good food shouldn’t be so hard to get. By the time I realised the potential risks of consuming adulterated daily and meat, I no longer craved it.
I was beginning to feel great.
Black lemon tea and drip coffee never tasted better after that.
I crave other things now-stuff that has little to no room for contamination or heated debates in lifestyle magazines-vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Not only did they taste great, but these foods also made eating a less stressful practice. The idea of relying on a plant-based diet freed up my mind from worrying about the side effects they could cause in future.
Now that I’ve acquired a taste for plants, I don’t think I’d want to go back to a meaty diet, to feeling bloated every morning or being uncomfortable after lunch on Sundays.
The best part is that I’m discovering new plant-based foods every day. My options, unlike popular notions, are abundant even to the point of overwhelming. This search could never end.
Bottled up in rows
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Photo: David’s Tea, Chicago