Chai vs. Coffee: Symbolizing a Struggle between Home and Career

I am a coffee lover and a chai lover.

Many times in my life, I have found myself engaging in a persistent battle between Chai and coffee. Always one or the other. That seems normal. Obviously you have to choose one or the other when someone asks you whether you want chai or coffee. But what’s interesting in my case, is that I find my desire for one or the other is a reflection of space, time, and the current task at hand.

I seem to consume coffee in my second home of Washington DC, where I work and study, and more while I am working on important deadlines. Coffee to me is something I consume for the sake of getting certain tasks accomplished. Unless it is flavored, there really is no enjoyment in it. I used to put a lot of cream and sugar to replicate my needs from chai, but eventually transitioned to just black coffee.

On the other hand, I consume chai at my hometown in Wisconsin, when I go to visit my parents and family. But lately, I have noticed that anytime and anywhere that I am near family is when I take chai over coffee. While coffee is more of a task-oriented consumption, chai is more enjoyable and frequent at times of leisure and socialization.

I think chai is something that can bring humanity together, whereas coffee can lead to sleepless nights, stomach aches, workaholic behaviors, restlessness, etc. There is something more individualistic about coffee consumption, while chai is more of a collectivist activity. It makes sense. Coffee appears to be more consumed in Western or “modernized” contexts, while chai actually originated in frequent daily consumption from more collectivist societies. Of course all of that has been changing in a globalized world. But, I think it is interesting how coffee emanates my quest for education, and chai emblematizes my desire to be near family or perhaps even to have a family. It symbolizes that dichotomy I have struggled with all my life. Could this mean that I have been looking at my career vs. family/home life in this dichotomy and feel I have to choose one or the other? Clearly, there is more meaning to the battle between coffee and chai in my life, which perhaps can be expanded in future posts.

I went through my older journals from college today and found this poem, called “Elsa’s Magical Chai.” I’m too embarrassed to share it at the moment because it’s just terrible, but perhaps I’ll improve it a little and post it on my blog. I found it to be a good laugh however. My passion for chai is immense, originating from my cultural background and family upbringing of course. In my household actually, I believe at one point I was the official designated chai maker. Every little component from the way you whirl the spoon around to the choice of mug or cup containing the tea, to the texture and creaminess of the milk, all combines in developing its nurturing and enjoyable taste.

Once again, after returning from a lovely trip spending time with family in Wisconsin, I gradually stopped coffee while I was there and returned to consuming Chai. So for the time being, while I am still a lover of coffee, I have halted my coffee consumption and stuck with Chai. I know slowly I will transition back to coffee again. Or maybe not? If not, it may be as sign for something else, a different direction or mentality or lifestyle change. I don’t know.  But for now, it reminds me of the values of home, as it is always difficult to leave home or the presence of my family.

Unfortunately, it is also symbolically a painful reminder of the sacrifices one endures or contemplates when making these types of choices.

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