It's always a good time for chai!

>> Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mmmm...chai.  My love affair with chai began many years ago when I was a graduate student in Colorado.  My husband and I were fresh from Mississippi and happy to try all of the ethnic foods that were at our disposal in Boulder.  Chai tea at our favorite Indian restaurant was always a treat.

Fast forward a decade or so.  Suddenly chai tea lattes are all the rage anyplace that sells coffee or hot drinks and for good reason!  While I often buy chai lattes when out getting a hot drink, I find that almost all coffee house chai is too muted for my taste.  Coffee house chai lacks the spicy strength that first enamored me to the drink long ago in those Indian restaurants.

My solution - both for my taste buds and my pocketbook - is to make my own chai.  A couple of years I came across a wonderful recipe for chai that was my staple until just recently.  I spent some time reading about chai and came up with my own recipe, and I'm happy with the results.  I start with whole spices and water and boil them to get every bit of spicy goodness into my tea.  The result is a wonderfully fragrant drink that I can enjoy when I want at home without breaking the bank.

This recipe for chai makes a lot - 3 quarts of wonderful, spicy chai tea.  The spices steep in water for a long time, so it's nice that it makes such a big batch.  I love that I have enough chai to last me a week (or, um, 2-3 days when it's really cold out).  I use decaf English breakfast tea, but you could use whatever tea makes you happy - a nice Earl Grey, a simple orange pekoe, rooibos or whatever.  I find that an English breakfast tea compliments the spiciness without overwhelming it. 

Last, this combination of spices isn't magical.  Try substituting coriander seeds for the allspice.  Add some nutmeg.  To keep that true chai flavor, don't skimp on the cardamom seeds. 

If you've only had coffee house chai, make a batch of this chai!  You might be surprised by the difference!

Cathy's Chai

2 heaping tsp of whole cardamom seeds
4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp of allspice
1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2-1" of a small knob of ginger, peeled and roughly cut into chunks
12 cups of water
10 single-cup bags English breakfast tea or tea of choice

Add all of the spices to a large pot.  Top with water.  Note the level of the water.  Bring to a rolling boil, and let boil for 20 min.  Add water to bring back to the original level and reduce heat.  Let the water/spice mix barely simmer for another hour. 

Remove from heat and add the tea bags.  Let tea bags steep for 5 min.  Add water to original level.  Pour the chai tea through a strainer into a large pitcher.

Add sugar and milk to taste.  I like to use demerara sugar cubes and just a splash of skim milk.

Do you make your own chai?  What combination of spices do you use? 


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