I have been saving this recipe to post until I could get my photos from my trip to India out to incorporate into this recipe. Today Zenie slept an hour longer than normal and so I had time to dig out my hard-drive where my pictures have been stored for years. After lots of clicks and frustration I had to face reality. Those pictures were stuck on the hard drive and my computer was not interested in reading them. So though we are lacking many amazing pics I decided to post this anyway.
I spent a month in west/central India during graduate school. I was there during graduate school studying at the Comprehensive Rural Healthcare Project. I have a very distinct memory of my first Indian Chai. I had just arrived in Mumbai, where from the runway of the plane you get a good view of slums and shacks as far as you can see. I me the rest of my group and we were traveling by van 8 hours into rural India where I would spend the next month learning about community based public health.
About four hours into the drive, the driver announced “Chai.” He pulled over into a little tarp covered kitchen where people were gathered. The smells of cows and hard labor were strong, my stomach already churning from the windy drive and the curry I had eaten for lunch. We were directed to sit down at a table and as the driver pointed to it he brushed his hand across and stirred up at least 100 flies that had been settled down there.
I had traveled some at this point in my life, I’d been to Europe, Morocco and Mexico. I was an avid hiker and camper and usually adapted well to any circumstance. But India was challenging me. It felt more foreign than anywhere I had been. The smell, the color, the noises, it was all wonderful but strange.
The poverty too was a challenge. I’d seen the poor in America, bag ladies living on the streets, their pockets stuffed with cigarette butts. And I’d seen the poor in Mexico, dirt floors and the smell of campfire. and greasy hair. But India was different, with every stop children surrounded the van, wiping the rain away, begging for money. I saw a child in a cage, I saw toddlers everywhere naked, covered with mud. People living in tents propped up in the median between highways, or along the gates of big hotels. And there were animals everywhere, mud and manure covered everything.
To say I was overwhelmed would be putting it mildly.
But there was no going back, I had a month ahead of me. I sat down with my little group that had gathered from all over the world and joined in the swatting of flies that buzzed around our heads.
And then something amazing happened. We were served these tiny little cups of hot, sweet, spicy delicious tea. The smell itself was so satisfying I wanted to bottle it take it home. Each sip was a delight. It was the reassurance that I needed. That is often what tea is I guess, a warm cup of comfort and nothing beats Chai.
There are a variety of Chai options in the US. I’ve tried most of them especially after I stopped (for the most part) drinking coffee. Yet with all my attempts at purchasing Chai at cafe’s (always too sweet), in tea bags (always too mild) I never quite found what I wanted.
Finally I got to really looking into it and found this recipe at Keeperofthehome.org This recipe has been revolutionary.
It turns out that it is easy to mix your own spices and have a ready made Chai tea seasoning that tastes just like the tea in India. Duh? Why hadn’t I thought of this!
This looks like more work than it is. Yes you dirty a pan, but it is worth it. This is the real deal.
Chai Tea Spice Mix
1/2 cup black pepper
1/2 cup cinnamon
1/2 cup cardamom pods (technically you should crack them if they are whole though I didn’t, you can also buy powder or pre-shelled, if you do this reduce amount by half.)
1/2 cup dried ginger or omit and use one inch of fresh ginger (this is what I do)
1/4 cup whole cloves
You can add nutmeg, anise or other spices you would like. Store in an air tight container.
How to make Chai Tea
This is enough to make two standard mugs. I adjust the amounts depending on how much I want to make.
1. Place 1 cup of water in pan, add two black tea bags or two heaping teaspoons of loose tea and 1/2 teaspoon of your spice mix, stir and heat over medium high heat, bring to a boil.
2. Add 1 cup milk and fresh ginger if you are using it ( I use fresh and just chop it a few times, I never peel it). I also add my sweetener here. I use a big squirt of honey but you can use whatever you would like. About two teaspoons of sugar is usually good. Remember the tea is strong and spicy so you want some sweet to balance it. If you want to adjust sweetness you can add your sweetener at the end but I like it well dissolved. Though I think you do loose some of the health benefits of honey by boiling it.
3. Bring milk and tea back to a boil. Whisk if desired to create some froth.
4. Shut off heat and let sit for 1 minute.
5. Strain and pour into cups. (I don’t have a tea stainer, so improvise with my big strainer and my wide funnel)