Monday, April 28, 2014

Chai, my way (cardamom, ginger, vanilla)

Inspired loosely by Afrah's talk of cardamom tea, I started thinking about chai and how I prefer it to taste. Of course, her tea is a different beast entirely (no milk, for one thing!) from what I was wishing for, but it did set off the train of thought in my head.
'Chai' in English refers to sweet spiced tea with milk, but of course there's a lot of room for variation there! I've made and disliked plenty of versions in the past, but just now have hit on a particular preparation that I like. It uses only a few spices, and sweetened condensed milk and higher-fat milk for a creamy, rich effect. It's sweet and mild, but it's what I like. Feel free to experiment with other spices (common ones include cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, black pepper, ginger, and cloves) and other components (different milks, flavorings, more or less black tea, etc) and find what you like. I highly suggest using whole spices - ground gives the final product an odd texture, and also generally has an inferior flavor. A pinch of a single spice on top can be nice, though

My blend has only cardamom, ginger, and vanilla. I get cardamom seeds at Holy Land (Central & Lowry in NE Minneapolis - hot food's just okay, but it's a fantastic grocery store - bakery, deli, from-bulk, etc, plus a halal meat counter) They're also available in pods, which you can shell easily (or, in tea, just crush) but I like the ease of the pre-shelled seeds. I also got some dried ginger root there, which is nice to have, but fresh ginger keeps for quite a while on the counter. The sweetened condensed milk adds body, as does adding as much volume in milk as water.

Simple Chai
 I found some decaffeinated black tea bags in my pantry and have been using them, since this is such a nice warming drink to have on a cold spring night. Adding the tea bags for the later part of the brew keeps the whole thing from getting too bitter and astringent. 

Serves 1. Scales up easily.

1 tsp cardamom seeds
1" piece of ginger root, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 black tea bag, or equivalent loose tea
1-4 tsp sweetened condensed milk (or sweetener of choice)
1/2 c milk, higher fat is better
Boiling water

Heat water on the stove or in microwave. Add cardamom, ginger pieces, and vanilla to a small mug. Fill halfway with hot water, and cover with a saucer. Steep for 5 minutes.  Add tea bag, re-cover, and steep for 3-5 more minutes, depending on how strong you want the tea flavor to be. While the tea is steeping, heat enough milk to fill the mug  you're going to drink out of in the microwave or on the stove. Remove tea bags, stir in sweetened condensed milk to taste. Strain mixture into second mug, and add milk. Enjoy!

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