"...and she is from Chai Country."
That is how most people introduced me at the World Tea Expo I attended earlier this month at Las Vegas. With chai preceding my introduction everywhere, conversations around it were aplenty. With every incremental discussion, I was amused with America's fascination with chai.
Most people confessed to me that they have given up brewing chai from scratch after trying out multiple recipes and now stick to the readily available chai concentrate at super market shelves. I must share my surprise at how the ubiquitous drink of India was perceived as a complex recipe for "cooked tea" with multiple exotic ingredients and spices. So I took it upon myself to demystify the chai and shared a Tea Sommelier's recommendation as what makes a good cup of chai. It's common knowledge in India, that there are as many recipes of chai, as there are number of people. Then, it was only fair that I share my personal recipe. For me, a good cup of chai depends on two key things:
1) Black tea leaf - A rich malty Assam tea makes the best chai. You may also use the English Breakfast Blend, if you don't have access to single origin Assam tea. A good breakfast blend will always have some Assam tea in it.
2) Chai Masala - Every household has it's own recipe and it's handed down to the next generation along with the likes of family jewels and heirloom. Such is the importance of chai masala in India. This recipe from my Tea Trunk, uses a special ingredient "Bay Leaf", which is a common ingredient in the Indian garam masala. Bay Leaf is known to cure many stomach ailments, so apart from the touch of health it adds, I adore it for the spicy punch it adds to my chai. Definitely worth a try!
Recipe for Chai Masala
1/4 cup cinnamon sticks/ dalchini
1/8 cup cloves/ lavang
1/4 cup black peppercorns
1/4 cup green cardamom (elaichi)
6 black cardamoms (badi elaichi)
1/4 cup mace/javantri, broken into pieces
1 tbsp Nutmeg,powdered
3/4 cup dried ginger powder/soonth powder
Special Ingredient: 5-6 mid-size bay leaves
Step 1: Dry roast all ingredients except the dried ginger powder (soonth) and powdered nutmeg in pan, for about 5-7 mins till the aroma fills the air.
Step 2: Remove in a wide plate and let it reach room temperature.
Step 3: Grind into very fine powder. Finally, add in dried ginger powder and powdered nutmeg.
Mix well. Store in airtight jar for longevity.
How to use Chai Masala: 1/2 teaspoon of chai masala is good for every two cups of tea. Add masala to a pot of boiling water and let it steep for 2 minutes. After this, follow the steps of making chai as given in your recipe. Enjoy endless cups of chai!
While you sip on that cup, I'll leave you with a glimpse of the sights and smell you could experience at a typical Indian Tea Shop or chaiwalla.