Chai is a Hindi word for tea, but in our culture, it more specifically refers to a version of the drink made with milky rich black tea and flavored with sweet spices.
This version, also known as masala chai, has gained quite a following in Indian restaurants as well as coffeehouses.
You can make it easily at home, if you have a well-stocked spice cabinet and a good spice grinder, as the recipe below from Food.com ably demonstrates. It’s a lot cheaper this way than the price you pay, plus you can make it the way you want, maybe with a little more ginger or a little less black pepper.
Or you could give a spice mix called Rani Brand Tea Masala a try. I found this at the Himalayan Bazar, 8466 Fredericksburg Road. The mix, which costs about $3.99 for a 3-ounce jar, has the spices already ground together. And that’s all it has. The ingredient label promises it’s made up of only the following: cardamom seeds, green cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper, dry ginger, cinnamon and anise seeds.
No sugar, no artificial sweetener, no preservatives. The recipe on the side calls for the black tea, the milk and the sugar added. I left out any sweetener altogether (I don’t drink sweet tea, either) and enjoyed the extra spiciness. Just remember to strain the chai as you pour it into the cup, because the spices, unlike the sugar, won’t dissolve.
4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons black tea (decaf is best)
In a mortar, crush the cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon, or use a coffee grinder.
Transfer the crushed spices to a small saucepan, add the water, ginger and pepper and bring to a boil.
Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let steep for 5 minutes.
Add the milk and sugar to the pan and bring to a boil.
Remove from the heat and add the tea.
Cover and let steep for 3 minutes.
Stir the chai, then strain it into a warmed teapot or directly into teacups.
Makes 2-3 servings.