Today is cold and rainy in Seattle, a reminder that summer is over and winter is on its way. There is an upside to this however: Chai is back in season on the houseboat. Chai has become something of a morning ritual for us. I will usually start the spices and the water simmering right before I jump in the shower, and then add the tea and milk when I get out and simmer until it’s strong enough. I throw it in a travel thermos and when I get to work, I am always excited to sit down and drink it slowly, sip by tingling sip, out of a small cup. The recipe has evolved a bit over the months, but this is where it stands today.
I make no claims on the authenticity on this recipe, though I have looked into various recipes and found that this suits my tastes just right. I like a spicy chai. I like to feel the ginger and pepper in my mouth, in addition to tasting it. I have settled on this combination of spices as well (ginger, allspice, star anise, clove, black pepper, cardamom, orange peel, cinnamon), though you will find other recipes that add things like nutmeg or anise seed, and remove ingredients like pepper, orange peel, or allspice. The amount of milk and sugar will vary from recipe to recipe as well; I like my chai on the sweet side. You are encouraged to play with ratios until you get the level of spice, sweetness, and creaminess that you prefer.
I use Brooke Bond Red Label tea for my chai. You can usually find it at asian or middle eastern markets or online. If you can’t find it, I have also had great success with good loose leaf Assam black tea. In that case, crumble the tea leaves in your fingers before adding to the pot.
A note about the ginger: Because it can be hard to have fresh ginger around the house at all times, I have tried using dried ginger with excellent results. I actually feel that dried ginger gives a spicier chai, presumably due to the concentration of flavor, and is therefore desirable for me both in flavor, as well as ease of storage. Ginger is the most important variable in determining the spiciness, so start by changing that if you want to experiment!
- 4 cups water
- 1½ Tbsp fresh ginger, chopped or 1 Tbsp dried ginger
- 2 tsp green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1 tsp whole cloves, crushed
- ½ – 1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
- ½ – 1 tsp dried orange peel
- 4 berries, whole allspice
- 1 – 2 whole star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon, about 3-4 inches, broken into pieces
- ½ cup milk (or half and half)
- 1 Tbsp Brooke Bond red label tea, or Assam black tea
- 2 – 3 Tbsp dark muscavado sugar, or dark brown sugar
Put the water in a saucepan and add crushed spices. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water comes to a boil (or even just before) turn the heat down very low, and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. This will affect the degree of flavor from the spices, so adjust according to your tastes.
Add the milk and the tea and let simmer again for about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how strongly you want the tea to infuse.
Remove from heat, strain into a bowl, and add the sugar to taste. I prefer around 3 tablespoons for this recipe and this yields a mildly sweet chai. Alternatively, you can pour the chai into cups and let each person sweeten their own chai.
Serves 2 to 4
Another good idea is to make “packets of chai” with all of the (uncrushed) spices pre-measured and packaged into little plastic bags (with the tea in a separate enclosed bag). Then just crush the spices briefly before adding them to the water. These make for good little gifts, and are also great to save you some time in the morning.