Recently, I woke when there was still a sliver of the moon and the sky was barely brightening. While I am generally reluctant to crawl out of my warm bed on winter mornings, I felt inspired to rise and make my morning chai with a slight twist, saffron.
I took the cue from a passage I had read in Victoria Finlay’s, “Colour, Travels Through the Paintbox” where during her research in Iran, she is cautioned, in jest, to “Be careful” drinking a cup of deep red saffron tea “or you will laugh too much.” She also shares from Batty Langley’s, New Principles of Gardening, published in 1728, “Too much Saffron being taken prevents Sleep, but when taken with Moderation, tis good for the Head, revives the Spirits, expels Drowsiness and makes the Heart merry.” Saffron seemed, to me, to be the perfect antidote to the grey of winter.
In semi darkness I brought a pot of water to simmer with finely grated ginger and a few crushed cardamom pods After 5 min I added a portion of strong black tea and an equal portion of earl grey tea. In another pot I warmed some milk to which I added my spiced tea along with freshly ground cardamom, a pinch of saffron and raw cane sugar. Drinking from the last remaining of my clay cups found in Ronda, Spain, the tea was aromatic and instantly uplifting.
The Sanskrit words, sukha and dukha, used in Patanjali’s yoga sutras, hold resonance for me as a result of a lecture Pandit Rajmani Tigunait gave one afternoon at the Himalayan Institute. Carefully structured, sukha and dukha, share the word kha which means space. The prefix “su” refers to that which is full of joy, sweetness and beauty and “du” that which is lethargic, heavy and painful. Our aim is to create a space within ourselves, home and community that is full of beauty. We can transform our dukha, in its various manifestations to sukha in a number of ways. Within the context of yoga, meditation, postures, breathing techniques and diet are all immensely supportive and beneficial.
This cup of chai, on this particular morning pushed out the dukha, the lethargy and grogginess of my body and mind and invited sukha, a joyful and focused space within me.
The combination of spices, milk and tea each have an effect of balancing each other. The rajasic or energizing quality of caffeine and tannins of black tea are balanced by the milk. The kaphic or heavy, mucus inducing quality of milk is balanced by the heat of ginger. Cardamom is an uplifting and invigorating ingredient which also balances the effects of caffeine and dairy. Rich in vitamins and minerals, saffron has a wealth of healing benefits. It also soothes the stomach and soothes the soul with its anti-depressant properties.
Delicate saffron threads come from hand plucking the stigmas of Crocus sativus (or saffron crocus). Harnessing the energy of the earth and the sun, the crocus lasts but a day. Drinking in its gold was a poignant reminder of cycles of life and change and the glow of each moment taken as it is.