Commonly called Chai tea by westerners, a name which is kind of like saying ATM Machine, Masala Chai or Chai is a distinctive style of milk-based tea consumed through-out the Indian sub-continent and into southeast Asia. Chai has a warm spice note in combination with the heat and soothing properties from the warmed milk that make it very relaxing to consume. In India, chai is consumed at any time and weather. It is not only consumed with meals but is also commonly served to customer in shops (such as jewelry stores) or purchased from roadside vendors called chai wallahs. This drink is incredibly simple to make and is the perfect drink for a cold winter day. The recipe I am following was taught to me by my wife (who is from India), who learned it from her mother (who still lives in India). It is a more simple, everyday, home version of the chai encountered in Indian restaurants.
For those who are looking for a fun and easy alternative to the traditional holiday drinks. Try adding cinnamon and nutmeg to the ginger and cardamom for a festive, rich and warming holiday drink.
Step 1: Items Needed
-A small pot
-A tea strainer (or some other wire mesh strainer)
-Chai Tea Leaves - these are a special type of strong tea leaf where the tea leaves are cured in a way whichs causes them to curl up into a ball. These can easily be found at your local Indo/Pak grocery store for around $3-6/box (enough to last more than a year of daily tea making). They look a lot like peppercorns in the image I posted. Some common brands are Taj Mahal and Red Label.
Milk - whole milk tastes better but skim is acceptable
-Sweetener - take your pick. You can use pretty much anything which can provide sweetness and withstand the heat. You can use sugar, brown sugar, molasses, Splenda, jaggery (a type of unprocessed brown sugar block commonly used in rural India) or any other sweeter of your choice.
-Spices - The spices used in chai vary greatly depending on the region and how complex or simple you want to make it. The spices used vary from rose to salt to fennel seeds and more. For a simple route to a more complex chai; you can purchase a Masala Chai Spice mix at most Indo/Pak. In this instructable we will be making a more simple homemade version so we will be using either ginger root or cardamom (green or black is acceptable). The cardamom (like most other spices) can be purchased pretty inexpensively once again from your local Indo/Pak grocery store, especially in comparison to the cost of spices at American grocery stores. Do not substitute cadamom powder, it doesn't have near the flavor and it won't strain out as nicely.
Step 2: The Boil
Prep your spices, depending on which of the spices you plan on using prepare as follows:
- Ginger: Cut the ginger into small pieces (around 1/4in or so) and crush them. You can also heat them a bit in the microwave to help release more of the juices. Then add to the milk.
- Cardamom pods: Crack open the cardamom pods using your method of choice. You only need to crack the pod open to expose the inside of the pod, you don't need to extract the little seeds from it. These little seeds and the inside of the pod are where most of the flavor is. The black cardamom pods can be kind of difficult, while green cardamom is very easy. You can use a mortar and pestle to crack them, just remember you are not trying to turn it into ground cardamom. In lieu of a mortar and pestle, the easiest method is to turn a knife on it side on top of the pods and crack them with your hand. Kind of like breaking garlic cloves. For green cardamom, you can even crack them with your teeth if it will just be you drinking it. Once you have cracked the cardamom add it to the milk.
Slowly heat your milk under low-medium heat until it begins a low boil. This one of those steps where slower is better. If you try to speed things up by using too high of a heat the milk will burn. This is a great tea to fix for your breakfast, I will get up, prep the milk and spices and throw it on the stove before taking a shower. By the time I get out of the shower and back in the kitchen the mixture is boiling properly
Keep in mind you will have some sections where the milk cooks to the bottom of the pan, this is normal. If these sections begin talking on a dark brown or black color, the milk is likely burnt and the taste will show up in the mixture.
Step 3: The Tea Leaves
The milk will begin taking on a tannish coloration. Many times the boiling milk will form a skin on top and the tea leaves will get caught up in this. Just stir the boiling tea to break up the skin.
The longer you boil the stronger the tea flavor will be. Typically, you will stop at a light-to-medium tan color, somewhere close to light chocolate milk. This usually takes around 2-5 minutes.
Step 4: Strain, Consume, Enjoy!
OK, now the last step before drinking. You need to strain out all of the solids (tea leaves and spices).
Place the tea strainer over the coffee cup, tilt the pot over the cup and strainer and pour. Hint: Do it in the sink because it WILL make a mess otherwise.
Discard the tea leaves and spice chunks in the trash or compost.
You will see the chai will have reached a nice rich tan color and a skin will have formed on the surface. Now you can drink it straight or add tea biscuits (aka cookies) or other assorted garnishes.