Building a Yoga Community through Chai

[This post was contributed by Elaine who is in charge of “chai services” at our studio Yoga is Youthfulness in Mountain View, California. – Ed.]

When our teachers (Anne and Einar Finstad) returned from 3 months in Mysore in 2004, they made chai and brought it to our studio every Friday morning. We started drinking chai after practice, and we loved it so much, that they started bringing chai on Sundays as well. They charged $2 per cup.

When several of us wanted to learn to make chai, our teachers held an informal chai cooking class. Two couples attended. As a result, both couples bought their own pump pots, and started bringing chai another two days a week. We gradually trained more people, who obtained their own pump pots, until we had a full complement of chai wallahs and substitutes. We kept a schedule and organized the substitutes via email. Our studio had chai service six mornings a week (but not on Saturdays when there was no Mysore practice).


Chai service at Yoga is Youthfulness, the pot, cups and sugar

One person wanted no caffeine, so she bought rooibos in bulk and sold it to some of the others in the group at cost. We found a source for biodegradable cups and again, bought in bulk. Several people didn’t want sugar in their chai, so we stopped adding sugar to the mix, and put out a sugar bowl. Now we label the pots as to the contents (e.g., “Black tea, soy milk, no added sugar”), to accommodate individual preferences and allergies.

The chai service has been wonderful for creating community among the yoga students and teachers. Those who stop after class for chai talk more with the other students as they leave class. It helps us to get to know one another. And having a warm drink after practice is very relaxing and satisfying. This is in marked contrast with some places where it often feels like “ships crossing in the night”. People who have been practicing in the same room for years sometimes have not even exchanged a word…


hanging out after practice at YiY drinking chai (Elaine is on the right)

Over the years, we have lost some of our core chai wallahs, due to changing work schedules, new babies, moving away, etc. At the moment, we have only three chai wallahs. Since two couples bring chai two days a week, we have five of our six practice days covered. One of the chai wallah couples is pregnant, so we may lose their days when their baby is born. The current group of yoga students are not dedicated chai drinkers – or maybe they are pressed for time to get to work, so the chai consumption has decreased. However, with cooler weather, the chai drinking is again on the rise. We hope to train new chai wallahs this winter to have a chai service six days a week. [Ganesh be praised, we have the six days covered now – Ed.]

As an alternative to chai service, we have instituted a “Self-Service tea service”: tea bags, cups, sugar, with hot water available through the water cooler, for 25 cents per tea bag. However, it has not caught on well.

Here is our recipe for chai. While each person has modified the recipe to fit their own tastes, we all started with the same basic recipe courtesy of Anne and Einar Finstad.

Einar’s Authentic Indian Chai (Spiced tea)

  • 11-12 cups of water
  • 2 cups grated ginger (if coarse, otherwise 1.5 cups fine) – about 8-10 ounces if coarse, 6 oz if fine
  • 10 cinnamon sticks (approximately 1 ounce)
  • large handful of cloves (2 heaping tbsp)
  • 1 heaping tbsp cardamom seeds (without pods)
  • approximately 2 handfuls black tea (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 gallon soy milk
  • approx 1/2 cup sugar (Optional)

1. Boil water.
2. Add grated ginger. Boil 15 minutes.
3. During that 15 minutes, crush and add cinnamon sticks.
4. Crush and add cloves.
5. Crush cardamom seeds.
6. After the ginger/cinnamon/clove mixture has boiled for 15 minutes, add the crushed cardamom to the boiling water. Boil for another 2-3 minutes.
7. Add black tea. Boil for another 7 minutes. The tea mix is now complete. Strain the mixture, and reserve the spices for a second boil, if desired (see below). Refrigerate or continue:

When ready to serve:
8. In a separate pot, bring soy milk to the verge of boiling.
9. As soon as it is warm, add sugar. You can add additional sugar to taste, either now or after combining the sugar/milk mixture with the tea mixture.
10. Mix hot milk with hot tea mixture, and enjoy.

Makes enough for a LARGE crowd.

Additional notes:

If you grind the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom (coffee grinders work very well), then use approximately half the amounts above.
No need to peel the ginger before grating. Cuisinarts work wonders.
A local Indian grocery is a good (and cheap) source for ginger and spices in bulk. These stores also have cardamom seeds without their pods. It is a real pain to shell them.
Cow milk works just as well as soy milk.
Play with the amounts of the spices until it works for you.
Use green tea or rooibos (South African red tea, no caffeine) if you want less/no caffeine.
You can re-use the grounds if you like: just boil the water for longer (maybe 1.5 hours). The caffeine is much much less in the second set of chai, while the ginger gets a little stronger. We keep the second-boil in the fridge, then mix with milk and microwave. It keeps for a week or more.
We often just throw the spices and tea in the pot of boiling water, then boil for about 90 minutes. No need to do the detailed timing as above, or the second boil on the grounds. It works for us.
Variations include adding a vanilla bean (opened and scraped out, or ground up), or adding star anise. Some people add pepper corns or chili peppers to increase the heat.


A happy customer (or addict?)

1 thought on “Building a Yoga Community through Chai

  1. Pingback: Morning Mysore » Elaine’s Chai article

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