September 25, 2023

Make Authentic Chai at Home Using Common Kitchen Spices

The other day I had a craving for chai but I was on my way to the movies with my son and we had about 40 minutes to spare. So I sailed through the drive-through of a certain popular high end coffee establishment which shall not be named here. I ordered the “chai tea.”

I asked the girl who was working the window if they had an unsweetened version and she said no, but she could give me “fewer pumps” which I accepted. The chai that came in my cardboard to-go cup was too sweet for my preference (even with the reduced amount of pumps) and did not satisfy my yen for something spicy. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It did the trick for the time being. But I wanted MORE.

Ever since then, I’ve been thinking that the idea of having “pumps” of chai is somehow not right. As a result of this experience, I felt compelled to make my own chai at home. So here’s how I do it.

Take out the mortar and pestle. Into the mortar (or is it pestle? I have no idea which is which), place the following:

  • One whole cinnamon stick
  • About 5 whole cloves
  • 2 or 3 teaspoons of whole black peppercorns
  • 4 or so green or black cardamom pods

Smash everything up, taking care not to be too aggressive, as you don’t want your spices to leap out of the mortar and pestle and onto the counter and floor. When your spices have been reduced to chunks, grind them up by swirling/pressing them to release the essential oils.

Place the processed spices into a medium saucepan filled with water. Cut a chunk of fresh ginger and mash that a bit to get the juices flowing. Add ginger to the pot as well. Bring all to a boil, then reduce to medium or medium-low and simmer until the water level reduces to 3/4 full.

Next, increase heat again to bring back up to a rolling boil. You’re going to add the black tea but you don’t want it to burn. Shut off the heat immediately after a boil is reached, and drop in about 4 or 5 black tea bags. If you’re using an electric stove like ours, move the pot to a cold spot on the stove top to stop the water from boiling on the still-hot burner. (You can also use loose black tea but I didn’t.)

Pour in milk and bring temperature up to scald the milk. Take care not to burn the milk – you have to shut off the heat before it creates a skin that puffs up and bubbles over the edge of the pan.

Strain into your favorite mug. Sweeten to your liking and sip it up! Oh and fun fact: Per my friend Aparna, it’s not “chai tea”. It’s just “chai” – which means tea! Enjoy this cup of warm, spicy goodness with a healthy brown rice muffin.

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