Dangerous Chai

lucy and meThis morning I brought a can of Trader Joe’s chai tea latte mix into school to try and finish off with my colleagues. It’s Lucy’s last day at Namcheon and I wanted to share it with her particularly. The last time I brought something in it was the candied ginger my mom sent for Christmas. It was not well-received. Lucy and later some of my 5th graders took a nibble at the powerful smelling stuff and then quickly placed it back on my desk, politely bowing before they returned to their seats. This morning, when I peel back the lid so Lucy can smell the cardamon and cinnamon she stares back at me with much dispassion.

“You don’t like it?” I ask surprised.

“Hmm. Hmm,” she affirms.

“You don’t like it…” I sigh.

“Don’t sigh,” she says. “Bad luck.”

No cigar.

I head to the break room for some hot water. I bring in a big Lipton tea container so that I can sip my prized chai for longer than the minute allotted by the small tea cups stacked next to the kettle. Lucy’s co-teacher, who prefers to go by his favorite sport, Tennis, eyes the can with curiosity. Nearing retirement age, he has traveled to 44 countries and loves anything that looks foreign. I open the lid and give Tennis and the custodian a good whiff.

“Ahhh, ani ani!” the custodian wavs the can away and steps back to her heated corner in disinterest.

Tennis looks tentatively into the can of foreign powder and offers up his cup for a small sample. The custodian and the groundskeeper whisper and point and laugh at the weird smelling stuff I’ve brought into their midst. I pour Tennis his cup and fill my container, which immediately begins to morph and shrink from the heat of the hot water. You’d think a container that says tea on it could withstand a little boiling water, but not this time. The container shrinks and the chai overflows onto my hands. I drop it into the sink before the custodian leaps from her safe corner to transfer what remains of my beverage into a heat-safe container. Oh, silly me.

After the commotion, Tennis and I sit on two stools in front of the heater and lift our cups to one another. He sips it while eyeballing the ceiling, waiting for God knows what.

There’s a pause and then he nods his head. “Mmm, mmm, mmm, very good,” he nods.

“Really?” I ask, even more surprised.

“This tea smells very strange and dangerous,” he says. “But, it is delicious.”

I raise my eyebrows at this final judgement and decide to retreat to my classroom with my can and this small triumph rather than face the test again with someone else.

When I get back to my room Lucy shoves a small cupful of woody-smelling burdock root tea under my nose.

“What do you think?” she asks.

“I think, maybe not.”

“Aw, chincha? Really?” She says before assertively putting the cup in my hands.

“Here,” she smiles. “You will like it. You will see.”

I eyeball the ceiling and take the sip.

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