There are so many different recipes for an authentic Indian chai tea, as many as there are spices it seems. A truly good homemade chai requires a seductive selection of spices and loose leaf black tea. You can alter this recipe to your own liking and create your own version, adding more of one spice or another — just use your own choice of spices and tea according to your palate preference. I like to use more cardamom, less black peppercorns, more ginger, less clove. There is no exact way to make authentic chai.
Since chai has a myriad of variations, here are the essential spices and tea used to make an authentic Indian chai: black tea (Darjeeling or Assam), cinnamon sticks, whole green cardamom pods, fennel seed, cloves, black peppercorns, anise, and ginger root.
The chai I made here was sweetened with honey rather than brown sugar and almond milk (you could use coconut milk as well) in place of whole cow’s milk.
Almond milk transforms this traditional Indian tea into a nourishing cup of creamy chai, an earthy ‘latte’ style I prefer. Take it a step further– froth some plain milk on the side to add to your hot chai tea and sprinkle it with a topping of ground cinnamon before serving. I also happen to love nutmeg and grate it on top of my cup of chai.
I discovered while making this recipe that homemade almond milk tastes more nourishing and thicker in texture. It can be best enjoyed during cool weather, just before bed, or as a dessert. This chai tea is comforting and a healthier alternative to the kind that most chain coffeehouses serve (which is made as a sugary syrup flavoring rather than a spice mixture steeped with black tea).
Do you know what chai means? In Chinese (Mandarin), chá means tea. In Japanese, cha translates the same, tea. In Korean, Bengali, Sinalese and Tibetan tea is cha as well.
In Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Hindi, Macedonian, Persian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Turkish and Urdu ‘tea’ is chai.
Almond Milk Chai
3 tablespoons loose black tea leaves (Assam or Darjeeling)
8 green cardamom pods
1 whole vanilla bean, sliced
4 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cinnamon sticks
2 slices fresh ginger
1 teaspoon anise
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5-6 whole cloves
honey to taste
Heat almond milk gently in a pot. Take care not to boil. Add the pods of green cardamom, cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean, fennel seeds, anise, black peppercorns, nutmeg, cloves, black tea and ginger. Tend to your pot, tempering the heat, just below boil.
Turn off the heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Pour through a sieve to strain out tea leaves and spices. Put the chai tea into a small teapot for serving or just strain into your mug.
There are many spices that are aphrodisiac in nature, but the scent of cinnamon is an aroma that arouses the senses.
Reading while sipping tea is favorite pastime of mine, especially if the weather is gray and cold. I find that poetry is a good pairing when lingering over your cup of tea and suggest it highly. There are many wonderful quotes about the art of tea and the way of life that it promotes, but there is one poem that comes to mind for this post and recipe.
The Cinnamon Peeler, a poem by novelist Michael Ondaatje, is the perfect poem to read while sipping your chai slowly…