Put Pepper in Your Tea, People
Tea in Naxal
As early morning sounds drift into the window of the house I’m staying in, nestled in the quiet neighborhood of Naxal, I slip on some shoes and head up the concrete stairs to the third floor. Dim light starts to creep over the blocky skyline of Kathmandu as I cross the roof deck and unlock the door to the small kitchen. I fill a pot with water for tea and light the stove. The woman whose house this is walks in. Both of us still groggy, we smile at each other mutely and she begins making breakfast.
The tea I’m making is her recipe, taught to me through demonstration when I first arrived. It’s spicy and sharp, unlike the milk tea which I am accustomed to drinking elsewhere in Nepal. Milk tea is creamy and mild, often with a generous spoonful of sugar and a thin, light-brown skin on the top. My host-mother’s tea is strong with cinnamon and a hint of black pepper—no milk or sugar. It’s easy to get wrong with too much spice.
I finish brewing the tea, careful to use the correct amount of tea granules—a quarter-sized pile in the middle of my palm—and to add the perfect pinch of cinnamon and shake of pepper. The kitchen fills with the smell of breakfast and we sit down to share the meal. The room is now streaked with light; Kathmandu’s sky has shifted from dark to light pink, now changing to the grey-blue of a mountain city struggling with its pollution.
We sit and sip the piping hot, spicy tea, quietly asking about each others’ sleep and dreams. She drinks her tea fast, in strategic slurps that cool the tea. I copy her method, only a little more successfully than I had months ago when I first arrived. Later in the day, I’ll fuel my research with sweet milky tea. But, for the moment, nothing is as renewing as watching the light change: the chill of morning slowly lifting as the fog of sleep is washed away by a hot cup of peppery black tea.