Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chai

When did I first drink chai? I think it was January, 2005. I was staying for a few days with a family from Somalia, and the wife of the family made a delicious breakfast beverage. To put it in crass but accurate terms, I was an instant addict. "What is this?" I asked her. "Chai," she said.

Chai. I thought it was some exotic African drink. Later I found that the word means simply "tea." In other parts of the world, whole nations drink this creamy, sweet, spiced black tea, all the time.

But outside a Somali household, I had no idea where to find this liquor of the gods in 2005, so I forgot about it until I moved to Massachusetts, and my dear friend Annie re-introduced me to chai. It was the salvation of my sanity on many an early, icy morning before a classroom of students. A huge mug of Tazo chai with raw sugar and half-and-half. I must have drunk barrels of the stuff that winter.

Yes, I started with Tazo chai, and it's still my favorite:
But Tazo is expensive, and when we're short on funds, or when friends give me tea (as they sometimes do), I end up drinking other chai brands. At Ingles yesterday, a box of 20 Tazo tea bags cost $3.98 on sale. Usual price was somewhere under $4.50 a box.

I've also tried Stash chai:
 And Good Earth chai:
I found both of these to be too strong, too "hot" in the spicy way. They didn't give me the smooth, delicious taste of Tazo. Perhaps they put too much pepper in their recipe; I don't know.

Yesterday, I noticed that Celestial Seasonings is now also offering chai:
A box of 20 bags cost $3.48. Some savings over the Tazo. I came close to buying it, but (I have to admit) I've never been really wild about Celestial Seasonings teas. They do the back-to-nature thing. If you like a zippy Red Zinger or an herbal tea, this brand's for you. I wondered if their chai would be too strong, or otherwise off-putting to my palate.

I've always been more of a Twinings girl, myself. I like a tea company that still sells metal tins of loose tea; they seem serious about their beverages. So I drifted down to the Twinings offerings, and low-and-behold, they now have chai also. Everybody is making chai!
And it was on sale for $3.00! So I bought a box. Hooray for Twinings!

I made a nice warm pot of chai last night, complete with raw sugar and cream. It was lovely.  But ... it wasn't quite as good as Tazo, in my opinion. Perhaps it's just that Tazo was the the chai I "cut my teeth" on back in Massachusetts. I don't know, but nothing else tastes quite the same. This indicates that the making of chai is a tricky, complex process.  I looked up chai recipes online, and found this website. Very nice website. And for goodness sake, look at this chai recipe:
Boil 5 minutes, then steep 10 minutes:
1 Tbsp fennel or anise seed
6 green cardamom pods
12 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/4" ginger root, sliced thin
1/4 tsp black pepper corns
2 bay leaves
7 Cups water
Add, bring to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes:
2 Tbsp Darjeeling tea

Add:
6 Tbsp honey or brown sugar
1 Cup milk

Yum! 

I would never make that recipe because I loathe the flavor of anise and fennel. But that's quite a "witch's brew," as they say. The front of the Twinings box says that they use cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger as their spices. Personally, I'd stick to those four.

And, of course, when I mentioned all this to Adam, his first comment was a confident, "Well, we can make that at home!"  He would think that.

4 comments:

  1. I enjoy chai now and then but I like mine earthy, spicy, strong and peppery and I also like the anise flavor in mine. I made a chai tea recipe last winter and really liked it. I think it was similar to the one you posted.

    I like Twinings too and I'll have to look for it next time I'm shopping for teas.

    I think I'll make some chai tonight. Bottoms up!
    Jody

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  2. Hi MK!
    I didn't realize there were so many options for Chai! I have purchased the kind you keep in the fridge (my daughter-in-law likes it).

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  3. I'm back with another chai recommend since I had a cuppa tonight. I have a loose chai by Rishi. It's called masala chai. Smooth and delish. It doesn't have anise.

    Jody

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  4. I've been making chai at home for years. I can't believe I've never made it for you. I make 2-3 qts at a time and keep it in the fridge. I boil 6-8 cups of water and then steep (or simmer) 2 cinnamon sticks, 5-10 cardamon pods, 5-10 whole cloves, 10-15 pink peppercorns, a small chunk of nutmeg, and sometimes a few allspice berries for a good while, half an hour or more if I'm feeling patient. Then I bring it back to a boil and add the tea, I like 4 bags, and let it barely simmer 5 minutes. Then I add a few slices of fresh or crystallized ginger and 2-4 cups of whole milk. I was taught to make it with equal parts of milk and tea, but I've decided I don't like it that milky. I was also taught to add the sugar here, but I like to wait til the end and just barely sweeten it, or even just sweeten by the cup. Then I cover the pot and bring it back to just barely a boil. I've found covering it keeps the milk from foaming up like a crazy thing and also keeps a skin from forming on top. I do have a glass lid, though, so I can check its progress. I might simmer it 3 minutes, or not, I don't think it makes much difference, though, again, I was taught to simmer it 5 min. after adding the milk. Then I keep it warm on the stove and drink about 3 cups before making myself put the rest in the fridge to save for the another day.

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