Do you want to start off the year right? Start with tea. Start with this tea. This sweet aromatic masala chai will make your new year whole.
By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for "tea" in much of South Asia (also in Korea) and Masala Chai means, "spiced tea". Masala tea has a long history that started 5000-9000 years ago in a royal court, somewhere in Asia. Some say, this royal court was located what it is now, India but some say it's Thai in origin. Regardless, it is said that a king created it as a cleansing, detoxing Ayurvedic beverage.
During this time, masala tea was served hot or cold and without tea leaves so it was caffeine-free. It wasn't until 1800's when the British established a tea plantation in Assam that tea leaves were added to masala tea. But this type of tea wasn't popular in India as black tea was still too expensive.
Then, in the early 1900s, the British-owned Indian Tea Association began to promote tea consumption within India but because black tea was the most expensive ingredient, vendors used milk, sugar and spices to keep their brews flavorful while keeping costs down. Masala chai became even more popular in India in the 1960s, when a mechanized form of tea production made black tea affordable for the Indian masses. The bold, tannic flavor of black tea made it a tasty counterpart to masala chai’s sweet, creamy and spicy flavors. For this reason, masala chai remains a staple in many parts of India. Street vendors and train vendors called chai wallahs - “tea persons,” (similar to a barista who serves coffee) serve masala chai to the public in India.
There are ingredients and then there are ingredients
The traditional masala chai is brewed or simmered tea leaves over heat, instead of steeping them in preheated water as it cools down. The strong black tea leaves are brewed with so-called "warm" spices like cardamom, cinnamon, fresh ginger, fennel seeds, peppercorn and cloves. Cardamom is the dominant spice, followed by cloves, fresh ginger, and black pepper.
If you are in Western India, fennel and black pepper are avoided. If you are from the Kashmir Valley, chai is brewed with green tea instead of black tea and has a more subtle blend of flavorings: almonds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and sometimes saffron. In Bhopal region, a pinch of salt is added. Other possible ingredients include nutmeg and rose flavoring (where rose petals are boiled along with the loose-leaf tea), or licorice root.
The current trend, outside India, involves even more variations as it has become popular with coffee houses and coffee shops popping up in every shopping malls. Espresso, chocolate, vanilla, steamed milk and even non-dairy creamers have been added to chai and marketed as Chai Tea (this really means "tea tea") or Chai Latte.
But I am all for authentic, from scratch, tea drinking, as with my cooking, so I asked my friend, the Tea Man, to serve up some Indian Masala Chai over the New Year's weekend. And this is what he served this authentic Chai seeking tea connoisseur apprentice.
Approximate Indian Masala Chai Recipe
Why is this called "approximate"? That's because the measurements for the ingredients are "approximate" and "variable". If you want to follow the exact measurements for strong, creamy, and sweet Masala Chai, you can. But, if you want to tweak the portions a little to accommodate your palate, you are more than welcome to. It's your tea. You can drink it anyway you want. But it behooves you to make it strong, aromatic, creamy, and sweet as Masala Chai should be. Just warning you.
Crush the cardamom pods inside a paper towel or cloth with a hammer. Once the pods are cracked, rub the shells together to release the aromatic seeds inside.
Dump the whole thing - shells and seeds - into the boiling water. Mmmm....can you smell the fragrant smell of the cardamom seeds?
Next, add all the spices into the boiling water with cardamom.
Then, we added Darjeeling Tea. But you can use any type of black tea leaves, like English Breakfast. Can you see all the goodness seeping in the pot, changing its color?
Add sweetener and milk.
Strain into a cup or a mug and sip in blissfulness.
I would have found a nice dainty English tea cup for the picture but I loved what Snoopy says on this happy mug.
"Life doesn't get any better than this", as it is with this masala chai. You need a BIG real life mug to sip this baby.
Here is the actual "approximate-variable-ingredients-to-your-liking" Masala Chai recipe.
~4 C Boiling water
~4 teaspoon of Darjeeling Tea
~10-20 Cardamom Seeds in Pods
~3 tablespoon Fennel Seeds
~½ Stick Cinnamon
~1 teaspoon Black Ground Pepper
~⅓ C Cane Sugar or any sweetener of your choice
~Any type of milk of your choice.
Boil 4 C of cold filtered water in a non-reactive pot. Crush cardamom pods and add all the shells and seeds into the boiling water. Let boil for about 30 seconds. Then, add the rest of the spices and tea leaves and lower the heat down to simmer for about a minute. Add sweetener and milk. Take if off the heat immediately. Strain and drink. Although this recipe starts out with 4 C of water, it yields less than that since some of it evaporates.
Sources: wikipedia and coffeetea.about.com
I actually used to brew a Chai tea from Mountain Rose herbs. Used to be called Oregon Chai, but now is called “Classic Chai”. I have found a recipe for a chai reduction that has no tea. It can be added to brewed tea, or how I like it, to COFFEE!!!
You can search it online, Chai Concentrate, but if it has tea included, leave it out or the results will be horribly bitter. here is the recipe I use:
RECIPE 2: INGREDIENTS (About.com.food)
• 12 green cardamom pods
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns (long pepper)
• 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
• Star Anise** ½ tsp
• Allspice** 1/2 tsp
• Nutmeg** ½ tsp
• Orange Zest** 1 tsp
• 1 cup sugar
1 cup water
• Preheat oven to 350° F / 175° C.
• Lightly crush the cardamom and black pepper.
• Place all the spices except the ginger and vanilla on a cookie sheet or in a baking pan, and toast until very aromatic (about five minutes).
• Place the spices, ginger, vanilla, sugar and water into a small pot on medium heat.
• Bring to a boil then simmer gently for five to ten minutes, stirring often. The longer you simmer the mixture, the stronger the spice flavors will become, but be careful not to make the syrup too thick or it will be difficult to use and may crystallize when cool. (I made it pretty thick, and had no issues with it crystalizing.)
1. Strain the syrup through a fine meshed sieve and pour into a very clean jar with a tight-fitting lid.
2. Keep refrigerated. Has a shelf life of about six months. To extend the shelf life, mix in about one ounce of vodka as the syrup cools.
You can use this syrup in a wide variety of drinks, including cocktails, milk steamers, dirty chais, other chai drinks, ice creams, cakes and other baked goods.
To make a chai-flavored milk steamer, follow this basic steamer recipe, using about one tablespoon syrup per 1 1/4 cups milk. Similarly, for one serving of dirty chai, use one to two tablespoons of syrup.
Made this recipe: VERY GOOD. I didn’t toast the spices, left it to simmer longer (about 1 hour) Didn’t add vodka!
This has been my Go-To ever since I discovered it. The best thing is you can play around with it to suit your own taste.
Dr. Karen Lee says
Wow. This sounds amazing! Thx for sharing!
TRUE CINNAMON is the cinnamon that is healthy for you, Often called Ceylon cinnamon it has excellent health properties and is a much milder taste. While CASSIA is NOT healthy for you....it is the type almost always found in stores. It is cheap and unhealthy in quantity.
Elsie Callender says
I just use a tea bag! But I'm wanting to DIY-it!
You are welcome! Do you make chai at home? What is your favorite recipe?
Elsie Callender says
I love chai! Thanks for sharing!
Ooh, can't wait to try this!!! Thanks for sharing Karen!
Yummy! Perfect recipe for a cold winter day. I was just thinking about making some homemade chai masala the other day. I haven't done that in about 4 years! I add a piece of vanilla bean to mine. I haven't tried it with fennel, but that sounds like a yummy addition. Thanks for sharing!
If it weren't 11pm over here, I think I'd be hopping over to the kitchen right about now. It's been cold here lately, and a cup of hot [approximate] masala chai would be awesome! By the way, did you know that there are two different types of cinnamons? Americans are used to cassia (sweet, strong -- think cinnamon rolls), whereas the rest of the world uses true cinnamon (spicier, more like the cinnamon you associate with potpourri). I bought cinnamon when I lived in the UK and spent a while wondering why it tasted funny before uncovering this factoid. 🙂