Chai is one of those things that can feel so comforting and nurturing.
I have these memories of ritually drinking chai while going through a period of health issues, where the smell alone of warm invigorating spices was enough to keep me on my feet (and I didn’t even consider then all the health benefits of those spices!)
Another memory is of a time I visited my meditation teacher. She shared with me permaculture lessons, and homemade chai made with fresh ginger. It was such a nourishing experience.
And also, I've once spent a week camping in Budapest. Chai was the center of communal gatherings. It was over chai, that strangers became friends.
If you’re new to the word, “chai” means “tea”, but in the West, usually refers to a particular spiced tea from India. You might recognize “chai” as the Western adaptation, full of sugar and flavored syrups (nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you’re into), but here, I refer to chai as in: malty black tea and spices that really kick.
And there’s nothing quite like a homemade chai!
It's special, it's personal.
It's easy to make, too!
Yet, it's the attention and intention that give it a charge of special magic.
Here are my tips for making chai at home:
- Select a tea base. I like a bold black tea like Assam. Think of the tea as the foundation for your spices. If you're making a non-caffeinated version, a good substitution is Honeybush.
- Select your spices. Traditional chai spice blends vary by region, and by household. Pick what you like. I like to blend cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, and always black peppercorn (to activate the other spices!).
- If you're using whole spices: simmer in water over a stovetop until the spices have released their flavor. Take a taste and determine if it's ready. It's all a matter of preference. I usually crush my cinnamon sticks before simmering, and I also gently grind the cardamom and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle.
- Add your tea at the very end. Let the tea leaves steep (no more than 5 minutes, otherwise your chai will be bitter), and then strain. I measure about 1 teaspoon of tea leaves per serving.
- If mixing up spices that have already been ground/powdered, the way I would prepare it would be to: mix spices first, then add tea to spice mixture. Measure out one heaping teaspoon of your blend per cup of boiling water and steep in a tea infuser for 5 minutes, covered.
- Lastly, add your milk and sugar of choice (or none at all!) I personally think a full-fat milk pulls all the flavors together. Occasionally, as an even more special treat, I'll take my chai with a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk!
I recommend making notes as you develop your special recipe.
And once you begin to feel like a chai alchemist, you might even want to try incorporating more adventurous flavors like douglas fir needles and juniper berries, or maybe even smoked tea and sichuan pepper!
Make peace. Make love. Make chai.