Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spicy Chai Tea

Continuing this week's theme of brewing aromatic teas with herbs from the garden and tea and spices from the cupboard, today's cuppa befits the cooler fall weather we're experiencing in Colorado.

Chai, a spicy Indian tea, is one of those beverages that has become so mainstream in parts of the U.S. that you can now buy it made up in cartons, like juice or milk.

Though beware; the carton variety is very sweet.

The first time I had chai tea was in the early '80's in an Indian restaurant in my neighborhood in Melbourne, Australia. Chai and mango lassi were two of the reasons my friends and I chose to eat Indian on Friday night after work.

I remember both beverages being sweet. The lassi was cold yoghurt blended with fresh mango whereas the chai was hot, slightly spicy and milky. They're both great accompaniments to Indian food since the sweet flavor and dairy counteract the hot, drying spices.

The chai my friend Cindy has made me, and subsequently taught me to make, is far spicier and thus more warming than the chai available in Indian restaurants and now in cartons.

This is because she's heavier-handed with the spices and prefers a stronger brew of tea as well.

To the left you'll see the spices, tea and sweetener (sugar) used for brewing several cups of spicy chai. Milk is not in the picture but it is part of the recipe.

Spicy Chai Tea
1) If you're using cinnamon sticks (as in jar above), break one in half and grind in a mortal and pestle. Toss the ground pieces into a pot.
2) Do the same with 6-8 cardamom pods (or you can use cardamom seeds if you prefer).
3) And into the pot toss 6-8 cloves.
4) And 6-8 black peppercorns.
5) Add 1/2 inch of grated ginger root.
6) And then add about 2 cups of water to the spices and simmer for about 10 mins.
7) Now add 2 cups of milk simmer a little longer.
8) Turn heat off, add 2 tablespoons of Assam tea and sweetener--either sugar or honey--and steep 5 mins.

To Serve: Using a tea strainer, pour tea into cups. Add additional sweetener if you wish, or rather than adding sweetener, you might like to serve a plate of sweetmeats with your tea.

The platter to the left contains dried prunes, almonds, rice cakes, a date bar cut into pieces, and chocolate-covered raisins -- delicious accompaniments to chai on a cold day for afternoon tea.

Note: If you're storing whole cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods or any other spices, they are best stored in glass. You can save your glass jars and reuse them for storing or you can buy canning jars to store spices.

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