I made some chai…
The summer I turned twelve, my parents took me and my brothers to India and though it was so long ago, I still have visceral memories of Delhi: the energy, the overwhelming people, the infusion to the senses, the colors…but most of all I remember hazy mornings by the train station or walking along crowded streets with sonorous chants of “Chai, chai, chai” from seemingly every direction. I had quite a few of those little clay cups that were unceremoniously tossed to the side once the tea was imbibed. Sweet, spicy, delicious.
My friend Helen is an amazing cook, and one of the best things she’s introduced me to is chai brewed from scratch. The written instructions have been lost eons ago, but every year I start assembling ingredients for this classic Indian drink as soon as the weather turns cold. I don’t think I’ve butchered Helen’s recipe too much over the years. What’s nice about this recipe is that you can modulate the sweetness and spiciness; I find most commercial brands to be too sweet without enough kick.
Here’s what you need:
yields 6 cups
3 cups of water
3 cups of milk
10-14 cardamom pods, crushed to open the pods
6-12 whole cloves
6-12 white peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into halves
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled (optional – I generally only use ginger if I have it on hand)
2 tablespoons black tea (I like golden assam, but any black tea should do)
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
1. Place water in large pot. Add cardamom pods, cloves, white peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and ginger (if using). Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Your house will smell amazing!
2. Add tea, bring to a boil again and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. If you are using loose leaf tea, I use tea bags like these so it’s easier to strain the mixture after it’s done brewing.
3. Add milk and gently simmer on medium high for about 5 minutes.
4. Strain mixture into a heat proof carafe or bowl. Add honey to taste, pour yourself a cup, stick a cinnamon stick in it and enjoy!
5. The chai will keep for 2 to 3 days but is best enjoyed immediately and will probably be gone long before the second day.
Oh, and if you’re in the US, I hope you get a chance to vote!