June 28, 2018

Masala Chai

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Ah, another great import from India! If you love fragrant chai, there’s no reason to buy it. Mine is so much better. Spiced black tea officially becomes chai when milk is added. However, for the sake of versatility, it makes sense to prepare the tea separately. That way, it can be used as a base for chai lattes, chai smoothies and shakes, and even chai desserts. (Try: Chai Banana Shake.)

16 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
small cinnamon sticks, broken in segments
star anise
1/8 tsp
(0.5 mL) black peppercorns
4 cups (1 L) or more water
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped ginger root
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
4 tsp (20 mL) loose black tea

In small pan, heat cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, anise and peppercorns on medium, shaking pan occasionally, 2 minutes, or until toasted.

Add 4 cups (1 L) water, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Heat on high. When water comes to full boil, partly cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 10 minutes, or until tan-coloured and fragrant. Stir in tea. Remove from heat. Cover. Steep 5 minutes.

Place fine-mesh strainer over large measuring cup. Pour tea through strainer. Drain 5 minutes. Push on solids to extract remaining liquid, then discard. Add enough water to equal 3 cups (750 mL).

Use immediately. Or cool to room temperature, then transfer to storage tub or jar, and refrigerate. Or freeze in ice cube trays.

Makes 3 cups (750 mL).

Lightning Won’t Strike: If you leave the peel on the ginger. Just rinse and pat dry.

Shopping Cart: Use strong black tea, so that the spices do not overwhelm it. Assam is the traditional choice.

Proxies: You can use teabags instead of loose tea. However, it is best to measure. Depending on the brand, a standard teabag contains 1 to 1-1/2 tsp (5 to 7 mL) fine tea leaves.

Bright Ideas: Frozen Masala Chai can be used in smoothies and shakes.

A Slice of History: In many languages, tea is called chai or cha. But most of us here recognize chai as milky black tea steeped with aromatic spices. Chai was originally considered medicinal. Variations in spice blends are numerous. Traditionally, green cardamom pods and ginger dominate, with additional notes from cinnamon, cloves, ginger and/or black peppercorns, and maybe anise, fennel and/or nutmeg. Milk and sugar entered the picture after the British colonialization of India. But Indians opted for water buffalo milk or sweetened condensed milk.


Hot Chai
For every 1 cup (250 mL) Masala Chai, stir in 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk and 1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 mL) sugar, honey or syrup. Microwave or heat on medium in small pan just until steam rises. (Do not boil.) I prefer 1% or 2% milk in chai. Whole milk is too rich and overpowering. However, you may use evaporated milk or switch to dairy alternatives.

Chai Latte
Add sweetener to Masala Chai and heat until steamy. For every 1 cup (250 mL) Masala Chai, use 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk and 1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 mL) sugar, honey or syrup. Heat and froth milk. Pour into Masala Chai.

Iced Chai
Fill glass 1/3 full of ice cubes. Add cold Masala Chai, sweetener and milk.  For every 1 cup (250 mL) Masala Chai, stir in 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk and 1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 mL) syrup.

Decaf Masala Chai
Use 2 tbsp (30 mL) decaf tea leaves.