Note: Simplified Recipe List Located at End of Article.
I’m a foot taller than my aunt yet she still tries to pick me up when I visit. We all laugh at the antic but I secretly pray that she doesn’t break her back. She’s the woman who raised me for the first years of my life. I can’t stand the thought of her in pain.
All my worries wash away when she makes me tea. I’ve had many cups of chai, but hers is the only one that warms me and makes me whole. I figured I should learn from her now that I’m exploring so many styles of teamaking. I wanted to know how my ancestors made it, toiling though it may be. But finding traditional tools in the US is rather hard and I wanted my tea pieces to have a story to tell. So I asked my grandmother to bring me some mud from her home. I began to work on creating a stove I could use to make chai.
Chai is a mixed drink made with tea, milk, and spices. It is not strictly a tea so let us classify it as a beverage, then. You could use any kind of tea to make chai. Part of the fun of chai is coming up with interesting flavors that harmonize with the spices. Here, I use what is traditionally used, a granular CTC tea, or Cut, Tear, Curl tea. This is the kind of tea one expects from tea bags. In loose form, these tea leaves are broken down into tiny balls that discharge intense flavor and aroma within seconds. Since milk is boiled, it is very easy to burn; using CTC tea allows tea flavor to immediately mix with the milk, reducing the chances of burning it.
When making chai over charcoal, it is even easier to burn milk. To remedy this, water is added before milk, roughly 100ml worth. Next, whole milk is rested on top of the water, roughly 500ml. It would be best to use unpasteurized milk but is rather difficult to find in the states. Whole milk will still give a rich, creamy texture. Health conscious Readers beware, anything less will leave your chai thin and lacking. A feeble illusion of comfort and warmth your chai could have otherwise been.
Spices constitute the bulk of flavor in chai. As a rudimentary guide, for 600ml of milk, you should use 1 bay leaf, 1 star anise, 1 inch cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, and 8 green cardamom pods. It would behoove you to acquire fresh spices and toast them prior to grinding. Toasting and grinding are luxuries that cannot be afforded at TSHOP’s patio. To mitigate, we simply left the spices to simmer for longer.You are free to add other spices as well depending entirely on your taste. For the onset of a cold, a 1 inch ring of ginger may be added. For soothing an upset stomach, one should tear fresh mint leaves in thirds before adding to milk. Sugar, though considered by this writer to be essential to chai, can be replaced with honey. I leave, it up to you to add as much as you would like.
After the milk breaks the first bubble, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. A thin film should cover the top of the milk. Be gentle, Reader, as burning the milk will leave you impressionably defeated. When the film appears, add your tea. With traditional CTC tea, auntie’s will flick 2 tablespoons loosely over the milk. This really depends on what kind of tea you wish to add.
After 1-2 minutes of boiling with tea added, strain over a traditional Khullad cup or your favorite graphic mug. If using a mug, curl yourself in your comforter and enjoy a steaming cup of traditional chai. If you have somehow managed to procure a Khullad, a traditional clay cup used by street vending Chai Wallahs, proceed to smash your cup on the ground after enjoying your chai. A khullad is usually what you will be served by chai wallahs to prevent people of different Indian castes from drinking from the same cup. Though traditionally it is a class separatist notion at heart, nowadays it is more of a fun practice to return our biodegradable cup back to the earth from whence it came. It reminds us that we share a bond with nature, creating an ayurvedic drink meant to heal our bodies, which will eventually return to the same place the clay will, back to our real home.
Recipe for Traditional Chai:
500ml Whole Milk
1 Bay Leaf
1 inch Cinnamon Bark
8 Green Cardamom Pods (crushed)
1 Fresh-cut Mint Leaf
Sugar/Honey to taste