Sudha Balagopal

Creative Nonfiction


Tea Memories


The tea we lingered over in our family, embroidered tea cozy from Kashmir keeping the pot on the table warm.

The tea from a road-side stand on a family trip to the rainiest place on earth, Cherrapunji, the Assam-grown beverage dense-rich in flavor.

The tea in the shadow of verdant tea gardens in the Nilgiris, milky-rich and soul-satisfying.

The tea my father brought from Darjeeling, fragrance of the Himalayas wafting through our home.

The tea bags I tolerated for their stringed convenience but to which I couldn’t get attached.

The tea that kept me company when I stayed up late during my college years, the mug’s warmth melting exam anxieties.

The tea with which I coaxed my coffee-drinking husband into conversion, for the togetherness, for the matching cups and saucers.

The tea I tasted in Europe for the first time, Earl Grey―citrusy and distinctive with its bergamot oil.

The tea I couldn’t find in the American stores in my neighborhood.

The tea I brewed for a newspaper reporter’s article, traditional chai, half milk, half water, spiced with fresh-minced ginger and cardamom.

The tea to which I must adapt, weaning away from the sugary-sweetness in stages, half-a-teaspoon, a quarter, then none at all.

The tea I indulged in whilst pregnant, a single cup, sip by delicious sip, to make it stretch.

The tea I craved, for its warm hug, right after my children were born: milky, sugary, strong.

The tea as a celebration and ceremony when I got together with my sisters, chai-chatter swirling over steamy cups.

The tea that I tried switching to―chamomile, turmeric, valerian root, lemon, ginger, decaf―for help with insomnia.

The tea leaves in the always-stocked container on my counter―the ceramic jar a gift from my daughter.



Contributor Note

Crafting in my Kitchen

I write in my kitchen.

It’s where I assess my pantry ingredients, where I think about how I can put together what I have to create something not just delicious but satisfying.

It’s also where I sip endless cups of tea, where I plumb my mind, where I connect to the ideas that call to me, where I connect disparate thoughts until they come together into a soul-satisfying story.

To me, both cooking and writing are creative endeavors. I’m not a disciplined cook, I don’t plan meals, I don’t measure, or even have all the right tools. But I do cook. A lot. I improvise, I approximate, I fashion what I already have into something that’s, hopefully, delicious.

That’s also how I write. I don’t begin with an outline, I don’t know how long the story is going to be, nor do I know how my niggling ideas, my ingredients―in writing, it’s my life experiences―are going to reveal themselves into a full-fledged story.

But just as I coax a dish into the best it can be, I cajole those niggling ideas into words, into paragraphs and into a story. For both cooking and for writing, I start with the ingredients I have at hand.

I’m amazed by what manifests.


Sudha Balagopal creates dishes and writes stories in her kitchen. She is the author of a novel,  A New Dawn and two short story collections. Her novella in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021. Her recent nonfiction pieces appear in CRAFT Literary and Native Skin. Her work will be published in Best Microfiction 2022.


ISSUE ONE