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Spiced tea tea - or, as known in these parts: masala chai tea

March 08, 2006

I was first introduced to chai, like most of us here in America, by the heavy sweet blends of milk and spices that are sold in the stores and in coffeeshops. I went to a church for a little while that brewed it up from a mix and served it steaming hot and very, very sweet in huge cups. It was the most popular thing on the coffee station.

But the sweetness was overpowering to me, and I lost my taste for hot sweet drinks a few years ago. So I quit drinking it.

But then I had a tiny cup of masala chai in an Indian restaurant - so spicy it bit the tongue - and I was hooked again. Not too milky, no sugar - just hot steeped spices and tea.


So I started making my own in the evenings. It's grown into a comforting ritual, and I vary the details a little each time. The recipe below may not bear any resemblance to something a true chai-wallah would serve, but it generally suits me. I like the bite of the pepper and the complexity of multiple spices; sometimes I add a little anise or some fresh ginger. I grind the spices to get the most bite - this is really not necessary, in all likelihood, and necessitates a messy extra step of straining. But maybe I just like my tea difficult.

Chai: An Improvisation

6 peppercorns
8 cloves
4 cardamom
2 green cardamom
10 whole coriander seeds
pinch of ground ginger
2 small bits of cinnamon
half a vanilla bean

1. Grind all of the above ingredients in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle.
2. (A profligate waste of a vanilla bean, you say? Well, I get mine on eBay - 30 cost me about 7 bucks. So I don't feel too bad. It gives the chai this smooth deep sweetness. A used vanilla bean husk with its seeds already scraped out would do all right too.)
3. Put spices in a saucepan, along with half a cup of milk, a bit of sugar, and three (decaf) black tea bags.
4. Heat two cups of water to boiling in a kettle and pour over contents of saucepan.
5. Simmer on low heat for about ten minutes.
6. Take out the tea bags and throw them away.
7. Strain the milky tea into your teacup and enjoy - preferably with some ginger cookies.

Posted by Faith at 8 March 2006

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