Contrary to popular belief, an oh-too-sweet chai latte at Starbucks is really not the same as a cup of spicy, home-brewed “masala” chai, which is what I grew up drinking in India.
The word “chai” simply means tea and may have originated from the “cha” of China. However over the years it has become synonymous with a mixture of tea leaves, spices, milk and sweetener that we now know as chai.
Traditionally in India, chai was an herbal concoction – used in Ayurvedic medicine and adapted with herbs and spices to soothe a particular ailment. Black tea only became part of chai after the British began growing tea in India. And we made it delicious, adding health giving spices known for their warming, pungent and heating qualities, which serve to balance out the cool, heavy, sweet qualities of cow milk, which is what is traditionally used in chai. In fact, I have found that I can tolerate dairy milk in chai, whereas it is not something I drink in other beverages or generally alone, ever.
At our home, we were not allowed to drink caffeinated chai as children, but I do have memories of dipping a piece of toast into my mother’s chai cup on a special occasion and relishing the spicy, sweetness.
These days, when I miss the India of my childhood, I make myself a cup of this warming brew of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and black pepper; and for a few moments I am transported back to my mother’s kitchen.
Yes, you can find plenty of ready chai mixes and some of them are good, without additives and the such, but I am here to tell you that making chai from scratch is not as difficult as it sounds. But like all things in life that are worthwhile, it requires focus, presence and a little bit of time – oh yeah, and the anticipation of deliciousness!
Here’s my favourite Ayurvedic Chai Recipe.
- This is a warming and balancing recipe that is perfect when you are needing a warm, comforting drink.
- Some Ayurvedic tips: If you are someone who has a good amount of “heat” in your constitution i.e. perhaps you run hot, skip the black pepper and ginger and add more fennel to this recipe.
- If you are someone who runs “cold” this recipe should work well for you; and if you experience much congestion or frequent colds, increase the amount of ginger and black pepper in this recipe slightly.
- For spices, I prefer using organic, non-irradiated spices that you can find at most health food stores. I also like purchasing them in bulk online at Mountain Rose Herbs and when in Vancouver, I find them at the South China Seas Trading Company on Granville Island.
- This recipe is interesting, because I add the tea in almost at the end. In India, the tea is boiled and cooked for a long time with the spices. I prefer adding the tea at the end so that the brew does not become bitter, or overly caffeinated and instead you really benefit from the healing qualities of the spices. Also, I’ve kept some of the ingredients a little loose with the measurements. E.g. I wrote 3 – 4 tsp of tea. Try it with 3 tsps first, see if you enjoy the taste and if you do want the brew to be a little stronger the next time add 4 tsp. The same with the spices, you will eventually notice that you really love cardamom or cinnamon and want to put a pinch more or less of something and this recipe will become your own. The lesson: have fun and play with your tastebuds. Every household in India usually has their own secret recipe for chai. You will create your own! 🙂
- Finally: You can also make the brew of just the spices and water (sans the milk or tea), and store it in your refrigerator. When you are ready to drink some fresh chai, warm a cup of that liquid mixture, add some tea leaves, milk, sweetener and enjoy.
This is a magical recipe and I really hope you enjoy it!
Insiya’s Ayurvedic Chai
- Whole Cardamom Pods – 6 to 7
- Whole Black Peppercorns – 3 to 5
- Cinnamon – ½ “ stick
- Cloves – 2 or 3
- Fennel – few seeds
- Fresh Ginger – 1/4 “ grated or thinly sliced
- Filtered water – 2 cups
- Organic milk – 2 cups or organic non-dairy mylk of your choice. Click here for my almond mylk recipe. I love cashew or coconut mylk as well in chai.
- Tea – 3 – 4 heaping teaspoons of loose leaf tea. If using tea bags substitute 1 tea bag per teaspoon. I use English Breakfast or Assam Tea for a chai with caffeine, or green tea for a milder taste. I also love making chai with either Rooiboos or Peppermint tea for an herbal variation that children can also drink.
- Sweetener: Raw honey maple syrup, coconut sugar, or jaggery (raw cane sugar from India – which is traditionally what chai was sweetened with).
- Crush the spices in a mortar and pestle.
- Add spices to ginger and water and bring to a boil. Upon boiling, let simmer for 10 minutes at least ten minutes. The water will reduce by at least a third.
- Add the milk of your choice and simmer for five minutes more.
- Add tea-leaves (I prefer loose leaf tea – less packaging and more flavor), bring the entire pot to a rolling boil. Watch it carefully as this happens quickly and bring off the heat.
- Strain and pour into a tea pot or tea cups.
- Add sweetener of your choice. The sweetness helps bring out the flavor of the spices.
- Serve in small tea cups with a garnish of a pinch of freshly ground cardamom or cinnamon powder.