Category: Drinks,Recipes | Post by: Andrea Wong
In winter, I can quite often be found with my cold little fingers wrapped around a cup of hot tea as I work in my chilly studio. When it comes to tea, I reach for the English Breakfast out of habit, but I have been known to go through spurts of drinking lots of herbal teas too. Lately, my cravings have had me searching for something with a bit more zing and I've been indulging on homemade chai. Even though chai isn't a herbal tea, in my mind it kind of fits into the same category... that is: tea-that-isn't-English-Breakfast.
"Chai" is a generic term in a few languages that means tea. In fact, the first time that I heard the word "chai", I knew that it was some kind of tea drink because it sounds so much like the word for tea in Cantonese ("cha").
Like many of us, I've had the odd chai latte from a café, which tend to be milky, sweet and brown... but not much spice flavour. But my first experience of real chai was from an Indian restaurant and I remember the tang that the ginger, cardamom and other spices give the tea. This is the experience that I wanted to try and replicate at home.
Up until one of the lovely gals at All Good Bananas mentioned homemade chai, I had settled for the supermarket chai-in-a-tea-bag variety... which I was happy with until I tried making my own. The All Good gal said it was really easy and when she rattled off the small list of ingredients, I realised I had everything that I needed in my spice drawer already!
With the recipe tweeted to me the next day, I was all set to try and chai. As promised, it was easy, relatively quick and tasty! Since then, I have been enjoying chai on a regular basis, and have experimented with making larger batches, bottling syrup... even almost breaking my precious coffee grinder in the process. A word of caution with this recipe: if you want to make the chai using a burr coffee grinder, be careful... my sticks of cassia (cinnamon) got stuck between the burrs and the machine ground to a halt. I think I'll stick to my mortar and pestle!
But what's cassia, I hear you ask? I recently learnt that what we thought was cinnamon, might not be the real stuff. Cassia is sold as cinnimon but is in fact from a different plant and is cheaper – many say inferior – and is not good for you in large doses. True cinnamon is sweeter and milder in taste... but is more expensive. Spotting the difference is easy if you're looking at cinnamon sticks. Cassia cinnamon looks like a single curl of thick tree bark, where as a true cinnamon quill looks like a Flake bar (sorry for the chocolate analogy, but it's true!). Real or fake cinnamon... the choice is yours.
(If you want to find out more about the difference between cassia and cinnamon, feel free to read up on it here)
If you have basic whole Indian spices in your pantry and a decent sized mortar and pestle, then you will proabably be all set to try making your own chai.
This recipe doesn't use all milk like the cafés do when you order a chai latte – and actually, I prefer it this way as all that milk can make me feel stodgy. This takes about 10 minutes to make and serves 3-4.
If you're feeling organised, you could do several batches in advance and bottle it. When I bottled the syrup, I omitted the milk, reduced the amount of water and multiplied the recipe by three or four. Then popped into the fridge, it easily lasted a week.
Makes 3-4 cups
2cm fresh ginger
1 cinnamon quill or cassia stick
4 whole peppercorns
3 whole cloves
3 whole green cardamom pods
1 Tbsp black tea (I just pop in the contents of two tea bags)
1 cup milk
3 cups water
3 Tbsp sugar
- In a mortar pestle (or spice grinder, if you are using real cinnamon which is softer than cassia (fake cinnamon)), pound the ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves and cardamom until it is a fine to medium paste
- Put the paste into a small pot and add the tea leaves, milk and water and bring to the boil
- Turn off the heat at let the chai steep for 3 minutes. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve
- Put in a coffee plunger or tea pot and serve.
Tip: You can make a batch of syrup to keep in the fridge for a quick chai: multiply the recipe by 3 or 4, only add 3 cups of water and omit the milk altogether. Store in a 750ml bottle. To serve, pour about 3 tablespoons of syrup into your cup and top up with boiling water and hot milk.