Yes, dear readers — I’ve managed to come back with a second recipe after veering off topic in my last post. I’ve made a tweak since launching last week: I’m throwing in music pairings with most of the recipes. The food will remain the focus, but I figured this could be a fun way to incorporate my other interests. You’ll typically find my recommendations after the recipe, as seen in this updated version of the chocolate bourbon cake I posted earlier. The music may be old or new.
With that housekeeping announcement complete, onto today’s recipe. Chances are most of you have encountered a phrase I often cringe at — “chai tea.” I’m not the first to explain this, but I must emphasize this: the reason why I cringe is that you’re asking for “tea tea” when you order it. “Chai” is the word for tea in Hindi (and a number of other languages).
While “chai” is the general word for tea, it’s associated with a very specific flavor palate in the west. Whether one orders proper chai — which involves black tea — or a chai latte (rarely involving actual tea), one generally expects to taste a blend of delicious spices. This combination of flavors isn’t particularly inauthentic (well, those chai lattes kind of are even though I happily indulge in them from time to time). But this type of tea preparation has a more specific name in India: Masala chai. (Masala essentially means “spice mix.”)
I love masala chai, especially as someone who was something of a late bloomer when it comes to tea appreciation. It has the kick one craves from tea, while also having so many delicious flavors I love. After indulging in it just about every morning on my last trip to India a few years ago, I decided it was time to learn how to make my own. So I turned to my dad, a man who drinks tea daily.
There’s no fixed way to prepare masala chai. The method my dad and I use involves adding milk and sugar after you’re done brewing the tea, whereas others boil the milk and sugar inside the mixture as well. I like our technique because it offers some flexibility when serving it to friends and family with varying preferences. There’s room to improvise with the spices you use — the quantities can vary, the types of spices you use can also vary (though I personally feel cinnamon, ginger and cardamom are key). The more you prepare masala chai, the more comfortable you’ll get with it. My technique these days is a little haphazard most of the time, as I usually just eyeball what I’m doing. But there is at least a little method behind the madness, so I’m going to share the basic outline with you. Once you grow more accustomed to making it, you’ll grow increasingly comfortable with adjusting quantities and flavors as needed.
- For one person*
- 1 to 1.5 cups of water
- 1 1/4 tsps orange pekoe tea (or other black tea)*
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon**
- 1/8 to 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/8 to 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Milk and sugar, according to preference (If you're vegan or avoiding dairy, plain almond milk should do, though be careful not to add too much).
- Optional: Dash of pepper/a crushed peppercorn
- OR a clove or two
- 1. Bring water to a boil over the stove in a saucepan.
- 2. After it boils for about a minute, lower the heat slightly and add the tea leaves and spices. Stir slightly.
- 3. Let the mixture simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
- 4. Cover the pan, turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for 2 minutes.
- 5. Pour out a cup and make sure to strain the liquid while doing so.
- 6. Add milk and sugar, stir and you're all set! Depending on how much your water evaporated while boiling or the size of the cups you're using, there may be enough for a little "bonus" serving after you finish the first round.
- * If you're making this for two, most of the measurements above would still work. However...
- - Switch the water quantity to 2 to 2.5 cups
- - Use 1/2 tbsp of loose tea
- The remaining spices can be used in similar quantities to those listed above, perhaps adding slightly more depending on the flavor you seek.
- ** Also, I typically use the pre-ground spices in my cabinets because it's convenient, especially when only brewing for one or two people. You can freshly grind your own, or even use grated or sliced ginger and crushed cardamom pods while brewing.
- Adapted from Papa Rad's Instructions
Admittedly, I feel kind of bad highlighting an old Hindi movie song I first heard via a Wes Anderson soundtrack (The Darjeeling Limited), especially since I heard plenty of classic tracks growing up. But this isn’t a song my parents recall ever hearing before, so I’m going to give myself a pass. This track, which spends part of its lyrics highlighting the sounds a typewriter makes, is a playful one that never fails to make me smile. And it’s got that old-school Bollywood sound that I love so much, even as I fail to keep up with current Bollywood movies. It’s just about perfect with a little cup of masala chai.