Masala Chai – Recipe for the ultimate Indian beverage
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My father is really big on breakfast. The meal is literally celebrated, and as should be, is considered the most important meal of the day. Eggs formed an essential part of the meal, along with at least 2 different types of jams, butter, freshly toasted bread and fresh cream. As I grew older, I noticed my father’s breakfast habits change. From his regular fried eggs, it became hard-boiled eggs, and then oatmeal with sugar. By the time I left India and moved to the US, all he ate was oatmeal with honey and low-fat milk. Butter is now bought only when it is required for a special recipe or for guests.
What never changed was his cup of chai every morning. That, he never gave up. Chai is the quintessential Indian beverage that every Indian has a special memory of. Evenings spent with that special someone at their favorite roadside tea stall. Reading The Times of India every morning with a cup of chai made just right. Ending a night out with friends with warm cups of masala chai. Having chai in clay cups at railway stations on the way to Delhi. We all have our stories.
Chai the way it is prepared in India today, was originally made so as to mask the taste of inferior tea accessible to the common Indian. Premium blends and the best quality teas were consumed by the British before independence in 1947, and good quality tea was prohibitively expensive for the common Indian. The method of preparation of course, has just stuck on over the years and you’ll rarely find an Indian have black tea.
Every Indian you talk to will probably also have his / her own favorite method of preparing Chai. Variations include brewing the loose tea leaves in boiling water, brewing them in milk, brewing tea leaves along with spices (known as Masala Chai) and brewing the chai with pieces of ginger (known as Ginger or Adrak Chai). Some like their chai weak, some like it strong. Some like more milk, some less. Some prefer using inferior quality tea dust, some like specific brands of tea. An Iranian cafe next to my home sweetens the chai with condensed milk and then boils the mixture for at least an hour. The result is a thick, creamy Chai that is really really delicious and refreshing.
Did you know that the flavor of chai is enhanced by the height from which it is poured into a cup?
I have a bit of a detailed process to making chai. I like mine thick, so I simmer the brewed tea with milk for a good amount of time. I flavor my Chai with spices and ginger pieces, and sometimes, even vanilla sticks. I have it with Tea rusk and sometimes, hot buttered toast. Hope you try my recipe for chai and enjoy it as much as I do!
To make 2 mugs of Chai – You will need:
- A medium sized saucepan
- A small sieve
- 4 heaped teaspoons Red Label or Society tea (available at any Indian store)
- 1 inch piece of ginger root
- 6-7 cardamom pods, slightly opened
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 Vanilla stick (optional)
- 1.5 cups water
- 1.5 cups whole fat milk
- Heat water to a boil in the saucepan
- Add the tea leaves, cardamom pods and ginger root and allow to brew on medium heat till the water turns a golden brown color
- Add the milk and reduce heat to low. Add the vanilla stick and sugar at this stage. Mix well
- Allow the tea to boil gently and thicken on low heat for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the saucepan as the Chai may boil over
- Turn off the heat and let the liquid rest in the saucepan for 2-3 minutes. This lets the temperature of the liquid come down a bit
- Pour through a sieve in your favorite mug and enjoy with a scone, cookie or chivda