How to Make Chai TeaBy Contributing Editor Kristina Strain
I'm a sucker for chai tea. It's sweet and spicy and exorbitantly over-priced, yet it's my cafe drink of choice. My four-dollars-and-change cafe drink of choice, until I learned to make my own. You can, too. It's pretty easy.
At its most basic, chai is black tea steeped with spices. It can be made with milk or without, with cocoa or vanilla or peppercorns, or just plain ginger and cinnamon. Making your own chai gives you supreme creative control over the finished product, saves money, and provides a much more sustainable way to enjoy a tasty beverage. The main ingredient in chai concentrate (sold in grocery stores everywhere) is water, and the carbon footprint of shipping all that water around is tremendous. Better to turn on the tap in your own kitchen and get to brewing a quick batch of homemade chai.
This is a basic chai recipe; it is by no means the be-all, end-all of chai. See notes on variations later on.
3 cups water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup sliced fresh ginger root
1/2 tsp anise or fennel seed
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
4 whole cardamom pods
1/2 tsp whole cloves
Combine all ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer five minutes. Add:
4 black tea bags (try Earl Grey, Darjeeling, or just plain old black)
Remove the pan from the heat and let steep, covered, for ten minutes. Strain to remove the spices and teabags, add 1 cup of milk, stir, and serve. Makes four cups of chai.
"Instant" Chai. If desired, the amount of water can be reduced to 2 cups in the above recipe, and the mixture can be simmered longer, yielding a sort of chai syrup. This can be stored in the fridge for up to a month. To turn any cup of black tea into "instant" chai, simply stir a few tablespoons of syrup into your cup along with a splash of milk.
Iced Chai. Proceed as directed with the above recipe, but let the mixture cool before adding the milk. Refrigerate the finished chai for at least an hour before serving over ice.
Chocolate chai. After simmering and straining the hot chai, add 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, and stir. Serve as usual. *This variation of chai is best served hot!
Vanilla chai. Include one-half a vanilla bean with the spices listed in the original recipe, or add 2 tsp vanilla extract to the finished, strained chai for vanilla flavor.
Citrus chai. To complement the flavor of Earl Grey black tea, try adding some grated orange zest to your chai once it's done simmering. Let the zest steep in the chai with the other ingredients before straining and proceeding with the recipe as usual.
Making chai is so much more interesting and creative than buying at the store. If you're a fan of black pepper, try nudging up the amount. If you don't like ginger, leave it out. Making your own chai opens the door for all kinds of tweaks and customizations. The ingredients, found in the spice section of most larger grocery stores (and all bulk food stores) will keep quite well in a covered container in the pantry, to be ready at the minute for a batch of homemade chai.
Learn how to make chai, and rid yourself of those bulky and expensive cartons for good. It'll help keep your carbon footprint light, your money in your pocket, and your passion for life intact. And we pretty much guarantee you'll be able to come up with a signature chai mix you like better than anything at the store.
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