Sunday, October 08, 2006

Chai - Indian spiced tea

My SO and I are both tea drinkers, but never drank a lot of chai until my parents bought us a chai mix for Christmas last year. We enjoyed the mix, but now that we're almost out of it we wanted to learn how to make chai from scratch. Sahni (1980) came to the rescue, and since we always have leaf tea and Indian spices on hand (thank you Upton Tea Imports and Penzeys), it was relatively easy to make. As we just made a batch this morning, this recipe is this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

6 cups water
1 cup milk
12 whole black peppercorns
6 whole green cardamom pods (or 4 whole green and 1 black cardamom pod)
6 whole cloves
1 3-inch stick cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons Assam leaf tea

0a. Measure out the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, and sugar and have them ready to add.
0b. Prepare a container that can hold 2 quarts of boiling liquid, and get a strainer ready (see notes).
1. Bring the water and milk to a boil in a pot over high heat; watch the pot carefully as it nears a boil, as it may foam up and boil over.
2. As soon as the milk and water boil, add the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, and sugar, stir to mix, and remove from the heat.
3. Let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
4. Return the contents of the pot to a boil, add the tea, lower the heat, and stir.
5. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on the pot, as the contents may try to boil over (especially if you have a slow electric stove, as we do); if you're worried about the contents boiling over, partially cover the pot for the first minute or two.
6. Immediately strain the tea into a container capable of holding 2 quarts of boiling liquid; if the tea leaves are left in (i.e., if you don't strain it), the tea will become overly strong and bitter.
7. Serve with additional milk or sugar, if desired.


Leftovers store well in the fridge, and are easily reheated in the microwave or on the stove.

To strain the chai we use a wire mesh strainer; cheesecloth over a colander should work just as well. We'd recommend against putting the tea in one of those small metal tea balls, as they don't have enough volume to allow the tea to steep properly; it's better to let the tea leaves drift in the pot and then filter them out at the end of the brewing period.

We like our chai relatively sweet, and thus we've increased the amount of sugar in the recipe from what Sahni specifies; if you don't normally put sugar in your tea, you might want to cut the amount of sugar added by half. We typically add a little splash of milk to our cups when we serve the chai, which conveniently helps cool it.

For those more knowledgeable about tea than us, we're currently using Upton Tea's Hajua Estate CTC BPS Assam tea; we haven't tried this recipe with other varieties of tea. Sahni reports that you can use 9 orange pekoe tea bags instead of loose leaf tea, but we strongly encourage the use of loose leaf teas for all your tea making endeavors. The tea in tea bags is typically composed of tiny fragments of tea leaves (tea dust, essentially) that often aren't as fresh or flavorful as loose leaf teas.

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 486-487.

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