By Navdeep Kaur
This week, we talked with Surbhi Sahni, the owner and founder of TAGMO, a South Asian food company founded in 2019 and run by women of color.
Be it sipping alone or enjoying it in the company of family and friends, it is commonly agreed in most cultures that chai is more than just a beverage.
Chai is considered a ritual enacted millions of times each day across the length and breadth of India to bring people together, create bonds among diverse cultures and to simply sit with the beverage and discuss the mundane happenings of the day or misfortunes of the world.
Surbhi takes pride in her self-made morning ginger chai and believes that it is her “boost”. For her, the emotions attached to partaking the beverage in America and India are different, which stem from the variation in taste of milk, engaging in the process of preparing tea in some very old pots at her father’s home in Delhi, sharing it with him in tiny porcelain cups and the general rhythm of life that goes along with the tunes of the beverage. She says, “it's the sound from the streets and this feeling of sensitivity of everything that's around you with your cup of chai, when you have it in India; it is a different experience”.
There is definitely something typical about the early morning and evening chai in every Indian household. Otherwise, the chai vendors who are popularly known as the chaiwala) are responsible for fueling those away from home, be it students, workers or anyone who needs an uplifting dose of chai.
Chaiwalas are an important part of the fabric of any city or town in India and serve a piping hot cuppa by adding milk, sugar, tea leaves and a mix of various spices (mostly ginger and cardamom).
In fact, some chaiwalas use recipes that have been handed over to them by their fathers and forefathers. In their pots, the chai is boiled/simmered for a long period which makes it rich, strong and thick in texture.
Surbhi fondly recalls the days when she was working as a chef in India and after a long day she used to stop by on her way home at a chaiwala’s shop to have a cuppa with her colleague. She also narrates of time about her visit to India when she went trekking to a temple in Pune (a city in the state of Maharashtra, in the western region of India), with her daughter and cousins, and finding a chaiwala at the mountain top. “It was raining and the view was beautiful! We must have had like twenty cups of chai”, she reminisces. In the nippiness of a rainy day, smelling the aromatic spices from a hot cup of chai and feeling the warmth of that cup in one’s hand can surely be comforting.
Surbhi has also experimented with her morning drink to create chai based desserts. Some of these include chai ice cream, chai affogato, chai panna cotta and chai tiramisu. She is also confident that more such treats would be on offer at the TAGMO storefront which is in the works.
While there is definitely something elusive about the goodness of a cup of chai, the passion with which Surbhi spoke about it made us want to try a cup that is prepared by her! Until then, go put that extra ginger in your morning chai brew and be rejuvenated by it.
Pictured above: Surbhi with her ginger chai
Pictured above: A collection of Indian sweets (called mithai) & chai for two
Pictured above: a chai stall in India