1.14.10 Rise & Shine

Chai 790 xxx
Fresh juice is a great way to start the day. You've probably already read my proselytizing about the many benefits of ingesting live, vital vegetable and fruit juices. (Quick primer: you get energy, antioxidants, digestive health, clear skin.) But on these frigid days, something warming does seem in order. I'm not a coffee drinker, never have been, though I do enjoy the occasional cup (especially as a vehicle for cream and sugar), but I am partial to chai. Actually, chai simply means tea. It derives from cha, the Chinese word for tea. What I'm really talking about here is masala chai—masala being an Indian word for spice blend. In India, masala chai is drunk like we drink coffee. It’s sold on the streets by chaiwallahs (and I think you all know what that is, having sat through Slumdog Millionaire.) Instant chai is available, but it tends to be loaded with sugar and fake flavorings. I’ve been known to order a soy chai latte from Starbuck’s (oh, the shame) and the best I can say about it is that it’s not very authentic. One prepared version I do like is from the venerable French tea company, Mariage Freres, called Chandernagor after the former French colony north of Kolkata (Calcutta). It’s a classic blend of black tea with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, green cardamom and black pepper. Sometimes chai will also include ajwain, a pungent relative of caraway; allspice; coriander; bittersweet chocolate; fennel, star anise or licorice root; nutmeg; and vanilla. My favorite tea to use in a chai blend is an Assam, whose assertive taste and slight smokiness can stand up to all the spices. Rooibos tea makes a pretty good caffeine-free alternative. Why not make your own masala chai blend in quantity and store it in a jar or tin? Then you can simply steep it in a combination of milk (cow, goat, soy) and water, adding whatever sweetener you like. I use honey, but sugar, agave nectar or even sweetened condensed milk work well. The spices really enhance the warming effect, and are a great way to get your blood moving on these cold winter mornings.

Masala Chai

makes 8 servings
  • — 8 whole cloves
  • — 6 green cardamom pods, crushed
  • — 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
  • — 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • — 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • — 8 tablespoons black tea, like Assam

I combine equal parts water and milk in a small saucepan (about ¾ cup of each for one large mug), adding 1-2 tablespoons of the masala chai per serving, and sweetener to taste, and slowly bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Then strain into cup and serve.

I also make a version with just green tea and cardamom that is delicious. You can customize your spice blend however you like, adding more or less of whatever appeals to you. It's also nice to use fresh ginger.

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I love Chai and will try your recipe! I find most pre-made concoctions cloyingly sweet and I prefer spiciness. A local tea company in Portland, Yogi Tea makes a nice Chai in tea bag form. You just add water and whatever else you like to the pot. I enjoy it with organic soy creamer and a touch of local honey. They make a few flavors but I like the Chai Rooibos, which I heard is good for its anti-inflammatory properties. It's nice to have a fast but healthy option like this if you don't have the time to prepare chai from scratch.
Suzinn on January 16, 2010 at 9:15 pm —
Rooibos tea contains polyphenol antioxidants and flavanoids, both free-radical scavengers that help combat stress at a cellular level. It's also naturally free of caffeine. All of the spices in chai--especially ginger, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and cardamom-have anti-inflammatory and/or healing properties. A good time and money saver is to simply make quantities of your own chai and keep it on hand in a jar or tin. That way you can customize it to your own tastes!
laura on January 17, 2010 at 3:19 am —
Thanks, I will do that today. I have all the ingredients on hand! How long will the mixture last in the fridge?
Suzinn on January 17, 2010 at 11:58 am —
Since you're just making a mixture of the tea and dried spices, you don't need to refrigerate it. If you keep it in a glass jar or tin in a cool, dark place, it will last for up to a couple of months. You can then heat a tablespoon or so in milk (of any sort) with your sweetener of choice, add an equal amount of boiling water, and there's your masala chai. If you prefer fresh ginger, you can toss a couple of slices in when you're steeping the tea in the hot milk. Hope that's helpful...
laura on January 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm —