I Erred Just the Right Amount Today to Find This About Our Beloved Ginger-Tea aka the Humble Adrak-Wali-Chai!
How do you like your tea aka chai? I like mine, depending upon my mood, with a degree of ginger. Sometimes a subtle feel of it and other times a strong hit of it. I usually add ginger to the tea when it has just started to boil and then stir it so it becomes slightly cold and will take an extra bit more to boil again. I have followed this method without change for a long long time except for this brief interval when I met this date at their house. I noticed how they boiled water with ginger before even adding the tea leaves. That felt really off and so I asked. I was told this ensures ginger leaves its max effects (or flavour) into the water to which later milk and tea leaves are added. I tried this method couple of times. One, the taste didn’t seem much different and two, it just felt tedious, one extra step thrown in for not much of a good reason. And so I abandoned this new method and got back to my old tried-and-tested one.
Why am I telling you this tea story today? Well, it has got to do with what happened today. You see I usually buy my milk from stores where they have stored these milk packets in refrigerators. And by and large, when you bring them home, you know the milk inside these packets is still fresh and has not gone bad.
Every day, until I think 11 AM a boy sets up his vegetables/fruits/bread/milk/masalas market adjacent to my building. I have bought veggies and fruits from him but never milk and bread. He keeps milk packets in open, in a tray just like veggies and fruits. Since he runs this shop only for a few hours in the morning, the milk shouldn’t go bad in those many hours but I just am too paranoid and think that there are also good chances it also just might go wrong in those hours. And today, since I was late, all known brands of milk packets were already over. He only had some local dairy’s ‘mountain cow milk’. Now I don’t know how special or different such a cow’s milk is but I just brought one packet home and immediately put it for boiling. It boiled all fine and then I got back to making breakfast. Sat down, switched some show on and finished the first important meal of the day. I thought I could make some tea now. Milk was still slightly warm, not very warm but just above room temperature. I took out a glass of milk and kept it inside the refrigerator and in the rest of the milk, I added tea leaves. Before switching on the flame and keeping the teapot on it. I have never prepared tea like this. I don’t think anyone prepares their tea like this. I don’t know why I was making it this way. I think I wanted to have tea a little while later but since I was already here I thought I would just do all the menial work and so I added tea leaves and also grated some ginger into it. I got back to my laptop; I must have sat down for five or ten minutes and then I got up, switched on the flame and kept the pot up for boiling. Came back and sat before the laptop again.
Later when I returned to my pot, I noticed the milk had curdled. My tea had gone all bad. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. But how? I know a slight lemon squeezed in milk spoils it or curdles it. Ginger doesn’t. I know because I have had ginger-milk-tea and never have I ever had lemon-milk-tea. I have been having ginger-in-milk tea for a long time now. There are shops and franchises selling ginger-in-milk tea too. Ginger cannot be the culprit. Maybe it was the milk. But I boiled the milk and it was fine. Plus it was still a little warm when I added tea leaves and ginger. How then? Could it be this special ‘mountain cow milk’? No answers.
Hours just slipped by. I got back to work. In the evening I got that glass of milk from the refrigerator and put it into the teapot and kept it on for boiling. I wanted to make tea the same way I have been making it all these years. But I think I was impatient again. I noticed that the milk was getting somewhat warm. Slightly warmer than it was in the morning when I added ginger and tea leaves to it but far from boiling. But this time at least it was on the flame. It felt like old times and I added the tea leaves and ginger. Got back to work. Next, when I got back to my teapot, lo and behold, the tea had again gone bad. All curdled. WTH!
Was I not supposed to add ginger to this mountain cow milk? Was it my tea leaves acting up with this mountain cow milk? What was it? I spoke to my close friend. He said he does the same thing with his tea sometimes like he adds ginger before boiling and his tea has never curdled! I spoke with another friend, but he had no comment to add. I seriously had no answers or theories that made sense. I was planning on to duckduckgo but wasn’t sure what to search for? And these days I feel too lazy to even search for things. But eventually, I did and guess what I found?
It’s not just lemon that curdles the milk. Ginger can do too. But only on special occasions and at special temperatures. And it appears I have hit that rightful temperature two times on a single day. Ginger, it turns out contains an enzyme, zingipain (or Zingibain or ginger protease). When milk is added to ginger juice (or in my case, ginger is added to the milk), this enzyme breaks down proteins in the milk, leading to the formation of cheesy-looking milk curds. And if we want to prevent the milk from curdling when adding ginger, we have to boil the ginger (which my date was doing) or at least add it to the boiling milk (which I used to methodically do until today or how most others add ginger). Ginger protease (the curdling agent in fresh ginger) is rapidly destroyed at temperatures above 70°C (the boiling point of milk is slightly higher than the boiling point of water, which is 100 degrees C). And so it does not matter if the milk has been boiled in advance, if you add ginger to cold or room-tempered milk, it will still curdle!