I was first introduced to chai by my older sister, Jasmine, who spent the better part of her twenties living in India. When she left home (Chile), I was only six, and when she returned about 8 years later, I was an awkward and impressionable teen. To say I looked up to my sister is an understatement. She wore beautiful silky clothes, had a nose piercing (at a time when NOBODY I knew had nose piercings), and told stories of the foreign lands she had visited, the interesting people she’d met, the delicious foods she had learned to eat and cook. Real, authentic chai tea was one of those foods. Spicy, slightly sweet and deliciously aromatic.
I’ve always just improvised when making chai tea, because that’s how I learned to make it. A few dashes of this, a pinch of that – it always comes out different, but always good. There is NO COMPARISON to the boxed chai tea, or anything in powdered form you’ll find at the grocery store – most of which is much too sweet and lacking in spice.
To share my Spicy Home-Made Chai Tea with you, I decided it was finally time to figure out what proportions of spices make the perfect cup of chai (according to me 😉 ). After a few trials, I came up with this recipe, but I can tell you with much certainty that in India, there is no such thing as a chai tea recipe, and everyone makes it just a bit differently.
With that in mind, feel free to play around with the amount of spices, and leave out anything that doesn’t work for your palate. I would say that the essential spices are cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Beyond that, it’s a matter of taste. Also, feel free to substitute fresh ginger for powdered, if you wish. Fresh ginger will yield a slightly less spicy tea, but it’s just as tasty.
I use a mortar and pestle to crush the cardamom, cloves and peppercorns to release the flavor. If you don’t own a mortar and pestle, simply press the spices with the flat side of a meat cleaver or a wooden spoon. You can drop the spices directly into the tea, or wrap them up in some cheese cloth so there are fewer particles to strain out it the end – your choice.
Also, if you prefer a vegan version, substitute a dairy-free milk of your choice. I find that soy milk makes a beautiful, silky chai, which I sometimes prefer to the dairy version. Simmering the tea in water first, as I’ve outlined below, will help release the tea and make a darker, stronger brew. Adjust the quantity of tea up or down depending on your preference. I like my chai tea strong, spicy and lightly sweet – that’s what you’ll achieve with the proportions I’ve given.
There should always be time in the day for tea and quiet reflection. Gather up your spices and treat yourself to some Spicy Home-Made Chai. Cheers, friends!
Spicy Home-Made Chai Tea
- 2 cups water
- 5 bags of quality black tea labels and strings removed
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 2 star anise
- 8-10 pods of cardamom crushed
- 3 cloves crushed
- 10 black peppercorns crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon of powdered ginger or 3-5 nickel sized chunks of fresh peeled ginger
- 2-3 tsp sugar or sweetener of choice adjust to taste
- 2 cups milk or non-dairy substitute
- Begin by bringing two cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Lower heat to simmer, add the tea bags and simmer for about three minutes.
- While the tea simmers, place the cardamom pods, peppercorns and cloves in a mortar and pestle and crush lightly (or use the the flat side of a meat cleaver or a wooded spoon to crush the spices). Place the crushed spices and the star anise in the center of a piece of clean cheese cloth (if using) and tie off with a string. Place the spice bundle, cinnamon stick and ginger into the pot of simmering tea.
- Add the milk or milk substitute and simmer on low heat for about another 12 minutes. Add the sugar and stir.
- To serve, strain the tea and pour into cups.