Image:
Guneet Pooni

Web MD’s big blunder: Definitely not my cup of cha

By:
Guneet Pooni (@guneet_p)

Last week WebMD shared a video, titled “Learn how to make a chai latte -- without the coffee shop price tag.” The recipe consisted of unsweetened coconut milk, maple syrup, star anise, and an unnecessary amount of ginger and cinnamon. 

WebMD received immediate backlash from Brown Twitter - enough to make them take the video down the next day.

People commented on every aspect of the video - let’s break down the recipe.

  1. To start they added three tea bags (with strings) into boiling water. It’s unclear how many cups they were trying to make and despite three tea bags, the colour was way too light.

Then they threw in a bunch of spices - cardamom (a key ingredient), star anise, and way too much ginger and cinnamon.

  1. Next came the real downfall - one cup of unsweetened coconut milk and a tablespoon of maple syrup. I’m Canadian but mixing Cha and maple syrup is no way to combine cultures.

To make matters worse, they used a wooden spoon to stir. 

There were also actual measuring tools used -- and anyone who knows authentic Indian cooking should know that if you don’t already just know the amount, you’re already doing it wrong.

Why that Reaction?

Chai, also commonly known as Cha, is the holy grail of drinks for Desis. Drink it in the morning, late afternoons, and even sometimes at night. 

Got a headache? Drink Cha. 

Feeling a little sick? Drink Cha. 

Feeling a little down? Cha will provide you with some warmth.

Cha has a personal connection and cultural significance to the Desi community, especially given the close knit conversations often shared over a cup.

As an enthusiastic Cha drinker from the age of 10, I took great offence to the video's debauchery, and I would personally give this recipe a -10/10. 

While I wanted to try the recipe out to give it a fair taste test, I physically could not get myself to make it. WebMD may have taken the video down, but it has, unfortunately, become permanently imprinted in my brain.

The adverse reaction is potentially rooted in the exhaustion of seeing Desi culture constantly borrowed from and gentrified. From hearing “chai tea” at coffee shops to seeing a “Chocolatey Chai Herbal Tea” at the local grocery store -- we’re fed up seeing important cultural staples moulded into being more palatable for Western audiences.

Although the video did not claim the recipe to be “authentic” -- a term often thrown in front of westernized items, it was still a misleading representation of an important cultural staple. 

The video was clearly not intended for a Desi audience, but the thought of someone actually making this in their home is distressing.  

Everyone’s Cha recipe varies a little. Some people need a dairy alternative, my Chacha just likes to put an abundance of sugar, my Dadi says I put too much ginger (not enough to make tarka though okay), and of course all the Moms perfectly cater it to the drinker’s liking. 

However, the purpose of the video was to make a “chai latte” at home. It was a blatant disregard for what Cha actually is. 

So, the reaction was warranted and humorous, and a nice change of pace from the usual doom-scrolling on social media nowadays.

Cha is home to many places in South Asia and it carries a different flavour region by region. Post COVID-19 have some friends over and share your own recipe -- let's just hope it varies from this one.

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