After sophomores Owen Fingerhut and RJ Norton and junior Daniel O’Dette heave their calculus books onto a table in the Mauck Hall lobby, they head to the kitchen to spice up their study session with a big pot of homemade chai tea.
“It’s 2 inches sliced ginger, 10 cloves, six cardamom pods, 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, about 2 inches of cinnamon stick — all lightly crushed,” Fingerhut said, reciting the recipe from memory.
The next steps are easy. Add the water, and let it bubble for a while before dropping in a few bags of black tea. Simmer all of that for 5 minutes, and pour in some whole milk.
“But strain the spices first,” Norton interjected.
“Yes. Strain the spices before you add the milk,” Fingerhut said.
Fingerhut and Norton said they started this chai-tea tradition their freshman year, and they’ve stuck with it since — they know they need the study time, and the sweetness in a cup of chai cuts the unpleasant aftertaste of an evening spent staring at biology notes. It’s a ritual the two started after they met in their freshman orientation group, discovering they shared both a similar course schedule and a craving for the authentic ethnic cuisine they enjoyed back in their West-Coast hometowns.
“It is kind of just dictated by convenience,” Norton said. “We happen to have had a lot of classes together, and so we have had a lot of instances where we needed to study, and we’re sitting together, and we might as well make chai because it is really easy to make.”
So once or twice a week, Fingerhut and Norton meet up with their laptops, their notes, and a few pounds of fresh ginger to review material from the classes they’re taking together and enjoy their favorite drink brewed to their standards. It’s not always just those two, though — other students have joined them over the semesters, like O’Dette, who teamed up with Fingerhut and Norton last month when the three had the same test fast approaching.
As the group wades through stacks of notes and chapters of information, their conversation bounces from topic to topic, keeping the mood cheerful. All the talk of tea, for example, reminded O’Dette of a conversation he had with his high school music teacher, who read a book that theorized Europe’s introduction to coffee began the Renaissance.
“Suddenly, everyone was drinking coffee over beer, and suddenly they’re more productive,” O’Dette said. “So the theory goes that the entire Renaissance was sparked because somebody started drinking coffee, and it spread. And everyone, instead of being hungover at 5 p.m., was now so full of energy they didn’t know what to do.”
Fingerhut and Norton both said they hope to continue studying together next year, which means Fingerhut will continue to schlepp several pounds of the higher-quality ginger he buys at home in California back to campus, just to ensure his tea has the right zing.
But for these zealous students, who seem to be campus’ most ardent chai-enthusiasts, their study-time tradition is worth the extra effort.