Reincarnation

by Anand Patel


“I feel like this above all the others is the season of change. Sure spring comes with its leaves and flowers and what not and that's cute... but Autumn is all about change.  I remember being a kid and waking up on the first day of september (yeah... I know that's not actually the first day of fall but just go with me on this) and just being filled with dread. Way too many things were about to happen and change.  The long lazy days and ethereal nights were done and gone; reality had come crashing back as summer receded into the distance of memories past.  Autumn destroyed the oneiric ecstasy of july and replaced it with the dry harsh cold of september.  Classwork and assignments and projects filled the void of running barefoot in the grass and swinging on tree branches.  More than the work, I dreaded the change, the fact that I had to let something go and replace it with tedium.  Basically... I associated change with dread and fear and anxiety and misery since childhood.  But... does it need to be like that? I dunno.

 

 

I mean... Its not as if the concept of change comes at us like a curve ball. We're all pretty much aware, especially as adults, that things change all the time.  Hell... even as kids, we make the transition from elementary to middle to high school; our friend circles change and shift all the time; cool kids become lame, and the socially awkward quiet kid in the back suddenly becomes the most popular kid. So "change" shouldn't come as a surprise to us. At all. And yet when it does, we get flustered and worked up. We hesitate to make changes, making excuses as to why things need to stay the way they are. We fight hard to maintain the status quo in our lives all the while complaining about how boring, tedious, mundane our lives are; and that applies to me too! It isn’t as if I don’t pause when it comes time to change things up.  I’ll simultaneously want to spice things up and keep everything the same saying, “yeah… I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet…”  But life doesn’t really give a damn about whether or not you’re ready.  When it’s time, it’s time.  We get older; our childhood comes to an end; adolescence melts into adulthood; relatives and loved ones drift away or die and new family members and friends somehow make their ways into our lives.  We age; our bodies change; what we used to be able to do at 19, we can’t anymore at 30.  Hairlines recede and wrinkles begin to show exactly how “experienced” (which I’ve learned is just a nice way of saying old) we are.  

 

No one asks whether we want these changes. No one prepares us for these events.  We’re pushed to accept change… we constantly engage in redesigning, recreating, redefining ourselves.  We’re born and as we travel through time, we are reborn, time and again… as the circumstances of our lives change so do we.  Our environment affects our feeling of completeness or… on the other side, incompleteness.  And I think it’s because of  this feeling of incompleteness that we actively add and weed out different components of ourselves.  We adapt as times change.  We embody different ideals and principles. It’s almost like we’re driven by this crazy desire to reach some kind of stasis with ourselves, like we’re trying to match who we think we are (or who we’d like to think we are) with whom the world sees us as.

 

All the while, we’re fully aware of the fact that our lives are constantly subject to change and that too without any prior notice.  But… somehow we convince ourselves that once we reach some pre-set goal our life is going to be set. It’ll be smooth sailing from there; That life is just going to remain constant, consistent, changeless.  But once we realise that we’ve changed… someone points it out to us, or it just suddenly hits us, “shit… I’m not the same as I was before _____.” Once we realise that we’ve changed, we wonder how it was that we ever did or said or believed what we did.  We look back on ourselves, on the people we hung out with, the music we listened to, the things we did as though someone else did them… like, “that wasn’t me… that’s not the real me. THIS here, now, this person is the real me.”  Then the focus and emphasis is placed on moving forward: because at that point, that’s all that we CAN do.  We can’t go back and change the things we did or the words we said. We can’t take back what we’ve put out into the world.  That’s just going to be there. Forever. And this is when we’ll feel regret and sorrow… but they won’t change what’s already come to pass. The present and future is all we can think about, focus on, cherish, and hold on to. Rebirth is a fresh start. Reincarnation is hope.”

 

-The Hidden Grounds


Hidden Grounds Moves Forward with a New V/Mission!

by Anand Patel


By now if you’ve walked into Hidden Grounds you’ve heard of and/or met Anand and Spoorthi, more affectionately referred to by staff and friends as Spoo. (Take the time to imagine the mortifying feeling of almost texting your boss, “Poo” asking whether or not to make Cold Brew, but more on me and other staff in the next post). From the opening of Hidden Grounds, Anand and Spoo have put their heart and history into their store, consciously making every decision to better the community while staying true to themselves and their vision. By the time I had started working at HG, Anand and Spoo had decided to take a step back from the store, and seek opportunities outside New Brunswick, and even the United States, to make Hidden Grounds not only a household name in New Brunswick, but far outside the city.

Anand and Spoo are those friends who are easy to envy. The ones who were unfulfilled with their corporate jobs, and instead of sulking and waiting for things to change, decided to make the leap of faith. The two year anniversary of the store has given them an opportunity to reflect on the decision they made, both the good and bad that have come from it, and envision the future. For the beloved regulars of Hidden Grounds, it’s hard to imagine New Brunswick without it, but the community HG encourages couldn’t exist without these two.

Both Anand and Spoo draw inspiration from their fathers’ work ethics. It’s hard imagining Anand coming from a regimented, strict businessman of a father, based on the fact I can spot a hole in every one of his t-shirts, but this is how he describes him. “He woke up, ate, and prayed at the same time every day.” While Anand will always strive for consistency, if nothing else the smell of masala chai being made in Hidden Grounds acts as a tribute to his dad’s travel agency in India, where the soothing drink was always brewing. Unsurprisingly, based on Spoo’s constant cheer, her father encouraged her to work hard, yes, but more importantly to always work hard at something she loves.

With the idea set in motion, all the two had to do was implement it. Their hardest challenge, having never had to deal with such a diverse staff or customer base, was simply people! Having to deal with this, I think, wipes away any envy I feel for the business owners. The complaints are endless; from having to explain the impossibility of a privately owned business matching the efficiency of Starbucks to mourning stolen mason jars. (In case you were wondering what happened to them all). Everyone has an opinion, and as a business owner it’s hard sorting the good from the bad.

When the business first opened, there was no other word to describe Anand and Spoorthi, but naive. Neither of them had worked in the industry or owned their own business. They just knew the corporate world was not for them. All they could do from there was take skills from their J&J jobs, where Anand was a business intelligence advisor and Spoo was a project manager for IT infrastructural projects. (you’d have to ask them for details on that). I wonder if Anand knows how much we all check out, once he starts throwing around the phrases “data points, risk factors, and profit margins.”  When it came to running a coffee shop all they could do was take the plunge and wait for the outcome. I’d say they’ve been pretty successful.

In Anand’s own words, “Hidden Grounds is no longer ours. It has become more about the people who visit the shop and people who make it successful on a daily basis. Hidden Grounds has become bigger than just Anand & Spoorthi. People recognize it for the experience it provides as opposes to worrying about who owns the place.”

As for the future they can mildly control, Anand sees two or three more stores across the nation in the next two years, a more diverse, and refined portfolio of products in the next five years, and a seat at the top 5% of the coffee chain in 10 years. Spoo, usually the more practical of the business partnership, who’s always trying to distract Anand from “shiny new things,” also shares his vision for influence in the global world. Described by friends as a true Leslie Knope, her “go big or go home” attitude is infectious.When asked what character he identifies with most, Anand couldn’t answer. “I don’t know anyone like me. or anyone as obsessed with business like me.” If that doesn’t describe him well enough I don’t know what does. (Should I also mention the fact he’s a Leo?).


 


Masala Chai: Why You Should Never Use the Phrase Chai Tea!

by Anand Patel


Vivid Memories

The more things change the more they stay the same. I often wonder how that can be true as I see the world around me changing relentlessly with none of it seeming to be the same. Growing up I remember the religious way my family made and drank chai. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I walk into the kitchen with the smell of fresh ginger mixed with cloves and cardamom permeating from a boiling pot of awesome on the stove. Small glass cups appear on a steel tray, one for every member of the family, as the piping hot concoction is poured through a mesh strainer and into an old tea pot. The day goes on and the ritual is repeated at my father’s office as our clients come and go. The assistant greets each person as they enter, making sure despite the small talk to ask if they would like a hot cup of chai. Rich or poor, local or long distance, chai was one thing that no one said “no” to. It’s almost safe to say that business didn’t begin until the chai was served.

India: Largest producer of black tea and largest consumer of tea in the world

It’s funny because Masala Chai is not even native to India. During the British rule, stands were placed in blue collar work areas and the hot, sweet drink was given away for free with small pamphlets glorifying its ability to give you energy and suppress appetite. People soon couldn’t get enough of it and what started as a way to boost worker efficiency became a cultural phenomenon that is now an inseparable part of Indian culture. In every bazaar or bus stop, train station or temple, a chai stand is always nearby. India has become the largest producer of black tea and the largest consumer of tea in the world. Over 80% of the tea made in India is consumed by its own people!

Finding the best combination of ingredients

Starting a coffee shop from scratch might have been hard but selecting our signature drink was a no brainer. Spoorthi and I knew that the only drink that could properly symbolize  our culture while still making us unique in this coffee-centred world was masala chai. But how would we capture the drink we knew? First you have black tea, a strong, bold variety that is no where near as shy as its green cousin or as gentle as its white one. This tea makes a statement from the first sip that stays with you throughout. Boiled milk smoothes out the sharp edges of the tea and gently invites you to keep drinking. The milk is assisted by cinnamon, warm and comforting, with just a hint of spice, reminding you this is something to be savored and not mindlessly gulped down. Speaking of spice, cardamom and clove work hand in hand to add drama to the landscape and surprise you in your journey. Black pepper, fennel, and other spices work behind the curtains to keep things interesting between the waves of flavor. Ginger, ginger, ginger comes cutting through your palate and cleaning your taste buds, preparing you to start your trip all over again.

Finding a dependable and quality supplier

The chai I know and love is sugar sweet, almost like a dessert in a cup. However, to meet western tastes, we had to scale back on the sweetness to give the drinker control over how much they were willing to handle. With a recipe in hand, we started scouting for vendors who could offer us the highest quality ingredients to make our special offering. We soon found the level of quality we expected demanded a price too high for our customers to stomach. Our search then turned to where our inspiration first started, India. Now began the calls to “aunties”, “uncles”, and friends as we looked for a way to get our hands on the best possible spices. We called my cousin in India to see if he can send few samples of the local tea and spices. That in itself took about two months since we had to deal with international shipping and whether or not it will be worth the price we are paying. All in all, we were able to come up with the perfect glass of Masala Chai using samples from India and on that day, HG Masala Chai was officially born.

Hidden Grounds Masala Chai is always made to order

All of our hard work has paid off and our customers can taste the difference. Each masala chai has fresh ginger, black tea, our indian spice blend, and fresh boiled milk. Every order is made fresh by our artisan baristas right before your eyes. No two chais are ever quite the same but it always makes you want to come back for more. Not in the New Brunswick area? Problem solved. Still can’t make it? Check out the how-to video below on how to make your own masala chai at home! But I promise, ours is better :)

Much has changed since the early mornings in my mom’s kitchen or the hours at the office with my dad, but this chai stays with me. Every sip takes me back, opening a portal to a simpler time. I hope our chai will bring you the same happiness it brings to me. Happiness to be remembered for years to come.

Sources:

Tea Statistics: http://www.teaboard.gov.in/pdf/Tea%20Statistics%20Global%20Scenario.pdf

Chai Infographic: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2012/04/everything_you_need_to_make_ch.html

Pictures: http://chaiwallahsofindia.com/2014/02/chai-in-gujarat/

HG Masala Chai Pictures: ohhs4mmie92, kshawty7