The first time I ever took a sip of chai tea, my sister and I exchanged puzzled looks.
“It tastes . . . rancid,” I decided, wrinkling my nose. I took another sip to be sure of my findings, of course; yep, still weird. Unusual. Spicy.
“It doesn’t taste like tea,” Katie agreed.
I’ve come a long way from the skeptical, just-straight-coffee-and-cream-thanks girl I once was. Furthermore, I’m no longer the Red-Rose-black-tea-until-I-die lady I was in my early twenties. (Sidenote: I can now say “early twenties” because I’m in my mid-twenties. Lord.)
When I worked at Borders and the newspaper, juicing up on some sort of caffeine was a nightly requirement. No one can work 14 hours a day without some sort of jolt. A friend reintroduced me to chai tea when I was a wee little bookseller — and then, to my great astonishment, suggested adding vanilla syrup to it. Delicious.
I was at Dunkin’ Donuts yesterday getting gas and trying to break a $20 bill before going to the gym, where I needed $5 cash to get past the fitness center guard who seems skeptical that I would want to pay as I go — once or twice a week — rather than invest in a monthly payment plan and itmakesmereallymad because IjustwanttodowhatIwanttodo without being questioned. Every single time.
So I went into my local DD and perused their beverage board. I’m used to ordering my gingerbread latte or, when I’m feeling randy, a peppermint mocha, but neither option is available now.
But then I saw something better.
A vanilla chai latte.
I’ve never seen a vanilla chai latte pre-made, friends! I thought it was . . . well, that it was something special my old Borders buddy had made up. I have vanilla chai tea bags in my desk, true, and they’re awesome, but they don’t compare to the creamy, milk goodness that is a chai tea latte. With vanilla.
So I ordered it and it was fantastic — seriously, so good — but I burned my tongue until eternity on the scalding hot milk. When will I learn to give hot beverages the prerequisite 20-30 minute waiting time before sipping them? Seriously. You’d think I just got here.
But I didn’t. Hot tea has been a staple in my life forever.
Growing up, my mom was a huge tea drinker — and Red Rose was her variety of choice. My favorite part of any tea-making habit was peeking in the Red Rose box to see which of the Wade Whimsies was buried inside with the teabags. The tiny animal figurines were favorite trinkets of my sister’s and mine, and Mom would help us place them all in a little cabinet. I used to cup them in my hands and admire the smooth feel of the porcelain. We still have most of them.
January is National Tea Month, y’all. Americans drink more than 50 billion cups of tea each year, one website claims, and I have a feeling that number is far higher in places where teatime is actually a ritual. Like England. Where I’m going in April. (More to come on that soon!)
If you’ve never tried chai tea (or a chai tea latte), make that your first order of business. It’s a taste of warmth and comfort in a cup. In fact . . . well, I need to brew some now.
And how do you take your tea? Or do you hate tea? One commenter will get a note from me (oh, the joy!) and some of my favorite teabags. Just make sure I have your email! Random winner will be selected on Saturday, Jan. 29 and emailed by yours truly.
Updated Jan. 30: Congratulations to Patty, my randomly-selected tea winner! I’ve sent you an email.