Monday, April 28, 2008

A Most Excellent Cup of Masala Chai

I want to expand on a previous post, Masala Chai, as I was inspired by Chandan's recent post on her delicious Masala Lemon Chai (seriously, you all must try it - amazing recipe!).

I've been going through tremendous India withdrawals since returning from our travels there. B
eing in India was like coming home as it awakened many things in me. Perhaps I am an old soul from India...

One of the things that takes us back to India is a scrumptous cup of masala chai with it's soothing and comforting effects. Scents, flavours and music are all such powerful time/place transporters. Mahesh and I sampled tea wherever we went. Funnily enough, his favorite was at the departure lounge of the uhhh..."glorious" Mumbai Airport!

So in an effort to comfort my longing for India, I've attempted to learn the art of chai making. It always amazes me that no two attempts yield the same results, and I guess this is one of the reasons why making tea is so interesting to me. Sometimes when I make it, the end result is, well, let's just say that my husband is nice enough to say it's good. It is a little odd how I go through phases of sometimes making good masala chai and other times which have been learning experiences. I've learned that it is not just about the proportion of spices that I add but it is also about timing: from the time of boiling the spices together, to how long you steep, to how long you reduce the milk...etc.

However, now, after numerous attempts (with a couple of forgettable tries earlier this month!), I think I've finally found the right balance of spices in making a wonderful cup to satisfy our tastes. Try it out, but keep in mind that you may need to make subtle adjustments to suit your own taste. Let me know what you think. =)

Spices (for about 3 decent-sized cups)
6-7 cardamom pods
1 heaping tablespoon of diced fresh ginger
3-4 cloves
3-4 peppercorns (or a little sprinkling of ground pepper to taste) Note: You might have to play with this one a bit until you find your own preferred amount of pepper.
Sprinkling of cinnamon
3/4 tablespoon of ginger powder
3/4 tablespoon of cardamom powder
1 teaspoon fennel powder

Combine all spices in 6 cups of water in a saucepan. My husband especially likes fresh ginger so I use quite a bit.

Bring to boil and then lower heat just slightly to a very high simmer for 7-10 minutes. This allows each spice to bloom, unfold and marinate together. The water and spice mixture will reduce nicely if you give it the time.

Stir just a couple times as the spices tend to float to the top. Breathe in the lovely aroma.

Now for the chai...I use tea bags, which of course have to be the Taj Mahal brand because we were so enchanted by the Taj Mahal on our second honeymoon. And we were lucky enough to stay in certain Taj Group hotel palaces through knowing people who know people.... (thanks if you're one of them reading this! :)

Lower the heat to medium high. I use 4 tea bags, but if you like your tea stronger, add another bag. Dip them in the simmering water pulling them up and down several times and enjoy watching the color change from a light brown to an orangish dark brown.
Then I cut the strings just below the paper and allow the bags to steep in the simmering mixture for about 4-5 minutes. Just be careful not to stir the tea too hard as the fragile bags can pop and then you have bits of tea leaves floating around in your tea. Not pleasant unless you strain the tea through cheesecloth.

Now, take the back of spoon and crush the cardamom pods against the side of the saucepan.

Add desired amount of sweetner. I use a heaping tablespoon of raw honey. Now give it a gentle stir as it dissolves into the simmering brew.

Once you've allowed the spices to infuse with the liquid, add 1 cup (or more) of milk. I use soy milk and it's perfectly fine, and the creamier the better.

Raise the heat to high. Enjoy watching the color change into that rich wonderful chai color. A creamy frothy layer will begin to form. Stay near the stove as once the chai boils with the milk, it will boil over the sides of the saucepan if you're not careful and then you have a real mess. I usually remove the tea bags before the milk boils. Because, the tea bags tend to explode if left in the violent boiling water too long (yeah, a mistake I've make all too often!).

Allow the chai to boil up to the top of the saucepan, and then remove the pan from the fire just before it boils over the sides. Return the pan to the fire again until the froth reaches the top and then remove again for a couple seconds. Repeat this about 5-10 times as this helps the chai reduce even more so the flavour and texture of the chai is more rich.
Strain into a mug. I will then pull out chunks of ginger from the strainer and put them into Mahesh's mug as he likes the crunch and spicy flavour of ginger as he sips...

....and enjoy!


shelley said...


Thank you so much for this recipe. I will try it out on the weekend and let you know what it was like!


Anonymous said...

You know, I am so sick of the sub-standard chai tea we get over here in Brisbane (Australia). I was in India last year (Buddhist pilgrimage), and the best chai tea was at the hotel in Varanasi where I spent my last night. I have not tasted anything comparable since.

mimi said...

oh yum!!! i can't wait to make it!!!

Shireena said...

Hi! Thanks Shelley, Buddha and Mimi for your comments. I love this recipe - I hope you love it too!

jenny said...

hi Shireena! i'm having so much fun roaming your blog. i completely relate when you wrote, "Being in India was like coming home as it awakened many things in me." every time we go, we feel the same way. and chai---i also love how every time tastes different! so many variations, always surprising and hopefully mostly good surprises! hee. we are also into the multiple 'boil' on the milk front. makes it nice and sweet.

thanks for coming by our new blog, too! i hope you'll share some of your stories (or your husband's) in our comments. i'm off to read more... jenny