They say food can help create and invoke memories. I think the same is true of drinks. Whether you’re young or old, various warm drinks are a treat that can evoke “sips” of life memories that literally warms you from the inside out.
For me three such drinks are a milky cup chai, creamy hot chocolate and a foamy cappuccino.
Even though much of world construes “chai” as “masala chai” or “spiced tea,” it is really generic word for tea in India.
Characteristically, chai is a full bodied tea that is not just steeped but rather boiled together with water, milk and sugar.
Masala Chai is brewed with different combinations of warm spices like peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and ginger.
For me, there is a “family element” to chai and sipping a cup always brings back memories of reunions and large family gatherings.
No matter what the occasion or the circumstance that brought my aunts, uncles and cousins together, our family affairs always began with cup of chai.
As soon as the preliminary greetings were concluded, the women of the family would somehow always end up in the kitchen as my mom simmered big pot of water on the stove. As the water rumbled and boiled so did the laughter and the loud “whispering” of family chit chat.
As I grew older, chai began to be associated with my sisters and brother. Coming home from university for the weekend always meant staying up late on Friday nights and having some good bonding sessions.
After our parents were tucked away in bed, copious amount of the hot brew would be made as we stayed up into the wee hours of the night analyzing, dissecting and solving the problems of the world. Still sipping our chai, our gab session would be concluded with one of us flicking on a Bollywood movie.
Even now as I host family gatherings with my extended family, chai is still a family affair.
When it comes to hot chocolate, rainy days, skating and cold winter nights come to my mind. Growing up, hot chocolate was like having a chocolate bar in a cup. My mom never really let us indulge on chocolate bar but hot chocolate was always perceived as a type of chocolate milk, so it was considered a good healthy after-school drink.
Whether it was raining or snowing my best friend and I would always walk home from school. By the time we finished the five km walk to my house, we were always chilled to the bone. A cup of water heated in the microwave, the quick tear of instant hot chocolate envelope and a stir, we were instantly feeling warm, even if our fingers and nose were still frozen and tingling.
We would grab a handful of the hard Dad’s packaged cookies and take them to my room where we would then dunk the cookies in the hot chocolate as we blasted ABBA from the eight track.
Back then, I also considered the best cup of hot chocolate was the one that we paid 25 cents for at the skating rink. The shed attendant would use a “special mix’ that contained hard little marshmallows. She would pour the mix with hot water and mix patiently until all the lumps were gone and only a smooth chocolaty drink. The marshmallows were a welcomed special touch that seemed to make it taste all that much sweeter.
As an adult, I have learned the hot chocolate can be so much more than the powdery mixes of younger years. Warm milk and cream gently combined with high quality melted milk chocolate that’s topped with pure whipped cream and a shavings of dark chocolate is a gourmet version that warms me with childhood memories with a far more appetizing and luscious flavor.
Cappuccinos began to be the beverage of choice after I was married. Very rare for East Indians, my husband never grew up drinking chai, instead he drank coffee. For me coffee was always a beverage which I associated with when I needed a wake-up jolt, not something I could warm my soul with.
So in the beginning of our married life, I would make a cup of chai while he brewed his coffee. We never shared a comfort drink together and though it may sound quirky, it never seemed the same because I grew up where there was always someone to share my cup of chai with.
This changed, however, when we both became acquainted with the frothy cup of cappuccino. A cappuccino had characteristics that we sought in a comfort beverage — the distinct coffee flavour that my husband craved and the sweet milky taste that echoed my chai!
Before we had kids we would have “date nights” at cappuccino bars as we mulled over money, work, and family. When the kids came along, we dusted off our cappuccino machine (a wedding present) and started making our own frothy drink at home.
After many trials and tribulations, my husband taught me that the best cappuccino did not come from fancy machines or any special premade mix, but with just some regular instant coffee and some elbow grease. His family recipe, as he claims, requires instant coffee mixed with sugar and few drops of water. This concoction is then whipped up in a cup to produce a creamy caramel-like paste. This paste is then mixed into a hot mixture of milk and water. The result is a frothy magic in a cup that is a lot like a cappuccino — luxuriously rich, creamy and sweet.
2 cups water
3 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
3 to 4 cardamom pods (cracked open)
1/4 cup loose black tea (or 4 tea bags)
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons of sugar (or a little less)
Bring water, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom to a boil; Add tea and milk and bring to a boil. When hot, strain and add sugar. Serve hot.
Hot chocolate on a stick
Yield: 10 cubes of hot chocolate (ice-cube-tray size)
Ziploc bags or piping bags
A double boiler or pan with a glass bowl that can sit over the simmering water
Stir sticks or a bag of wooden craft sticks
8 oz. chocolate (bittersweet, semisweet, milk, and white chocolate all work)
1/4 cup cocoa, sifted
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
Milk and heavy cream if you plan to enjoy these right away
If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into even-sized meltable pieces. This can be done in a double broiler or a microwave. Add cocoa, sugar, and salt and continue to stir until combined. The chocolate will be thicker, as thick as frosting, but stir on.
Scoop the chocolate into a Ziploc or piping bag and clip off the corner. Pipe the chocolate into ice trays, tapping the mould on the counter to make sure all the chocolate settles into the mould. Add a stir stick. The stir stick should stay upright without any trouble. If the chocolate starts to get too thick to squeeze, just put the whole thing in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or so at half power.
Let the chocolate cool either at room temperature (or in the fridge if you’re in a hurry). I find the chocolate pops out of the mould nicely if it’s been in the fridge.
If you don’t like the look of the chocolate once it is removed from the mould, you can dip the cubes into a new batch of plain melted chocolate for a shinier finish This also lets you add sprinkles or crushed candy or just lets you dip in fun patterns. I like dipping at an angle into a different color of chocolate.
In order to enjoy these, heat up any combo of milk, water, half and half, or cream. One ounce of chocolate on a stick should be melted into one cup milk or cream. So a standard ice cube-tray block, which is 3/4 ounce, should be melted into a mug with 3/4 cup milk or cream in it.
Makes 2 cups
2 tablespoon instant coffee
4 tablespoons sugar (reduce to taste)
1/2 teaspoon water
2 cups milk (or 1 1/2 cup milk + 1/2 cup water)
Spoon coffee and sugar into a cup. Add water and mix it. It should be crumbly and not very wet. Continue to beat it with a spoon incorporating as much air as possible to make a frothy fluffy paste. It should be creamy and whipped. Divided the coffee paste between two cups. Boil milk and water together on the stove or microwave and pour on the whipped coffee and sugar. Stir well quickly till all is combined and the top looks frothy and smooth. Sprinkle some coffee powder on top and serve immediately.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.