My first introduction to chai must have come when I was in grade school. I wanted to drink tea because it seemed Fancy and Grown Up and British but I never liked the taste. Somehow a box of Celestrial Seasonings chai tea migrated into our house and I liked that. When I was feeling Fancy and Grown Up and British I would microwave a mug of half skim milk, half water with a tea bag in it for two minutes and then stir in copious amounts of sugar. It was the perfect introduction to tea for a ten-year-old, sweet and milky and weak with just a hint of spice. I would sip this chai while losing myself in a book, most often Harry Potter. My chai has changed since, but not much else.
In high school I favored the heavily sweetened”Chai Tea Lattes” that I would get at Starbucks, and I drank those throughout college when I didn’t get coffee (back when I used to drink coffee). Post-college I favor my local coffee shop and order a chai when I don’t feel like tea. It’s creamy and sweet and has a nice hit of spice. It’s an indulgence and it’s a treat. I get one maybe once or twice a month and I feel no guilt over doing so.
As much as I enjoy the creamy, sweetened chai, I love a spicy, milky chai tea when I want something different from my usual tea but not uber indulgent. I’ve been trying every which way to come up with a genius “house” chai recipe since before I started this blog. I tried a concentrate, a syrup, and a coconut-spice reduction. They were all good (Except for the coconut-spice reduction. That was a big disappointment.), but ultimately required more effort than they were worth. It didn’t help that there’s no one definitive recipe for chai that I could memorize and steal. In India, chai just means tea, and even if we’re taking chai to mean masala chai, the spiced milk tea Americans think of when we hear chai, there are infinite amounts of variation in spices, sweetness level, and preparations possible.
When browsing Food52 recently I found an article about how Madhur Jaffrey makes chai and was instantly smitten. Turns out ten year old me knew a good thing when she found it. I was trying so hard to be new and novel that I was needlessly complicating a good thing. It was time to pare back.
Jaffrey, and now my, chai recipe is simple. You boil together spices and tea for ten minutes, add milk, sweeten with sugar, strain, and drink. Spices are left whole and can be customized depending on your tastes. The tea is a whatever cheap black tea you have, so save that expensive loose leaf oolong you got for Christmas for drinking straight (thanks Ben!). It comes together in ten minutes, and has almost no active time, so you can put it on to simmer while making your breakfast. It makes enough for two, so you could share, or store for another morning.
It’s the perfect morning treat for those days when you want something slightly special. I hope those days may be in abundance. Happy 2016!
Easy Masala Chai
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe on Food52
This makes the chai I like- slightly sweet, milky, and with a nice background of spice. Feel free to play with the spices and adapt to your personal preferences.
6 whole cloves
8 green cardamom pods
6 black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
10 fennel seeds
2 whole star anise pods
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
3 black tea bags (I used Equal Exchange Earl Gray)
3 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon cane sugar, or to taste
In mortor and pestle lightly smash the cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, fennel, and star anise. Add the smashed spices to a medium saucepot with the ginger, the tea, and the water. Bring the whole thing up to a simmer, and simmer for ten minutes.
After the tea has simmered add the milk. Let it come to a simmer, and then add the sugar. Stir well and taste, making sure the sweetness level is to your liking. Strain the tea through a strainer into mugs. Discard the spices and tea. Drink hot.