While not quite noticeable here in Phoenix, fall has officially arrived. It has always been my favorite time of year with the brisk morning air, the changing colors of leaves and the overall slowing pace of life. Fall also brings the taste of warming spices such as cinnamon, clove and ginger which find their way into many foods and drinks. It is the time for apple pie, ginger snap cookies and a cup of Chai.
During the past decade, Chai drinks have taken the United States by storm, and there are many blends and recipes available on the market today. Generally, if you order a Chai here, you will be indulged in a cup of spiced black tea, with or without milk – in India, however, you will simply get a cup of black tea.
The reason is that in India as well as many Eastern European countries, Chai is the word for tea. It is derived from the Mandarin word “Cha”, also describing tea, which is still used in Japan and China today. While in India, people refer to all tea as Chai, in the Southern part of the country, a cup of chai is prepared in the British style, with sugar and milk. In the Northern part, however, people like their tea flavored with spices and call it “Masala Chai”.
Legend tells us that it was the chef to the royal king of India who first created this tea by scenting it with exotic spices from his kitchen like nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. The king, entranced by the unique and wonderful taste announced that this drink would from now on only be served in his court and he forbade the chef to divulge the ingredients to anyone. Long after the king’s death, however, the recipe filtered down from the royal family to aristocracy and then to the masses, with each group adding and deleting spices to their taste, including cinnamon, pepper, fennel and more.
Today, the combination and amount of spices varies, but cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper are usually part of the traditional blend. Other recipes may include, ginger, cumin or coriander.
It is a little like a chili recipe – while there are certain main ingredients that are common to every good chili, recipes vary and each chef may have a secret ingredient to create uniqueness. Masala Chai recipes also vary from region to region and the proportion of spices is typically the secret of the preparer. Nowadays there are even blends that deviate from the traditional black tea base and use green tea, a blend of black or rooibos .
If you want to prepare Masala Chai from scratch, choose a good whole leaf black tea from India or Sri Lanka since these teas have the body to stand up to the spices you add. Other ingredients include at least four spices (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, pepper, fennel, etc.), water and milk. Place the tea and spices into cold filtered water, bring everything to a boil and simmer for 3-7 minutes. Strain the tea and add warm milk and sweetener to taste. For a richer Masala Chai, boil and simmer the spices directly in milk.
Olivia- Chaiwallah at Souvia Tea