I recently read an article that was shared by a friend that was titled “Tea if by sea, cha if by land: Why the world only has two words for tea”. The article outlines how both these terms originate from China and how the spread of the words depicts how globalization worked before the term “globalization” was a term.
In Swahili, the term chai is used. I grew up drinking chai in Mombasa. I find myself drinking chai now as a way to soothe myself after a long day. Chai is something that I took very much for granted in my childhood, I now approach it with more mindfulness.
Anyway, there are two ways of drinking chai in Mombasa; either you can drink chai wa rangi (translating literally to chai of colour) which is a blend of fresh crushed ginger, chai spices, black tea leaves and nothing else. The second way is known as chai ya maziwa(chai with milk what is a so-called chai latte here in Europe). Chai is drunk in various ways in Mombasa as there are some recipes that lean more on the Indian influence and use more cinnamon, other recipes use more crushed ginger (chai ya tangawizi). Every household has their own way of preparing chai. I remember that as a child when we would visit my mother’s village in Embu a common breakfast would be margarine spread white toast bread stacks that would be cut diagonally into right triangles, that would be dunked into the chai. I loved this breakfast as I am a sucker for dunking all kinds of things in my tea! This type of breakfast is a staple for a lot of people across Kenya.
In Mombasa, people do also drink their chai with margarine spread toast bread. Yet there is also the traditional Swahili breakfast which is chai na mahamri ( mahamri is a cardamom-spiced doughnut that is not in the shape of a circle but in the shape of a triangle). Sometimes the mahamris are filled with mbaazi wa nasi (which is pigeon peas in coconut milk stew). So delicious!
People in Mombasa add sugar to their chai which in some cases has had not so good health effects on the people. I find that by adding maybe more fennel or more cinnamon, chai can be enjoyed without adding sugar. Therefore here is my Chai ya mdalasini (chai with cinnamon) mix. I made a video that shows the whole process:
One small disclaimer this is not your Nyanya’s way of making chai. This is my way which is very much inspired by how I am feeling, where I am, what I see, read and taste. If you want your Nyanya’s Chai mix then please just ask her.