There’s nothing I like better than a little mug of sweet cardamom tea to unwind after an action-packed day. Today the term ‘chai’ has become a generic term for posh frothy mugs of under-spiced and over-priced drinks available in coffee shops across the globe. This makes me sad.
The recipe for chai is one I email out a lot to readers and I think finally, it’s time to officially share one with everyone. It’s taken me long enough.
If you’ve never tasted a real cup of Indian chai, you won’t know that it should be spicy, not just aromatic but full of heat from ground cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns. The spice should be balanced with a generous amount of sugar, milk (or condensed milk) and of course, well-brewed tea leaves.
This is the epitome of the perfect Indian chai.
Making tea is a fine-tuned art everyone can be a dab hand at. Every family has its own recipe but the balance of flavours will always be in perfect harmony. Don’t be shy, play with flavours, and find your favourite combinations of spices. Just make sure they are balanced against the strength of tea, and quantities of milk and sugar.
I’m currently in love with fresh green cardamom pods and find myself adding it to just about anything from Paneer Butter Masala to Eggless Banana and Cardamom Crème Brûlée. Insanely delicious.
Something I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about via email is how to add depth of flavour to homemade chai. The answer is simple and if you haven’t been to India to it made by the super-talented chaiwalla, it’s something any Indian can reveal to you – just boil it in a saucepan.
The secret, revealed
Boiling tea leaves with milk, water and ground spices for seven to twelve minutes removes the ‘raw’ smell of milk and ensures the spices and tea are well infused into the final product. The stronger you like your tea, the longer you leave it to boil
Finally, strain the chai through a fine-holed sieve to catch any spice sediment. Wouldn’t want to gulp that down. Having said this, excess masala settling at the bottom of the cup is completely normal – just don’t drink it.
I love the feeling of almost reaching the bottom of the cup and knowing it’s going to get a little bit spicier.
290ml whole milk
1 tbsp black tea leaves (I use Darjeeling)
1 tsp freshly ground green cardamom seeds
1-inch stick cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar
1. Boil the water, tea leaves, cardamom and cinnamon for around 3 minutes.
2. Add the milk and sugar and continue to boil for at least a further 5 minutes or more, up to 9 minutes. Ensure it’s on a rolling boil.
3. Strain into cups using a fine-holed sieve and serve.
The perfect sweet treat to compliment chai has to be Nankhatai, spiced Indian biscuits. They’re perfect for dunking and are likely to be flavoured with some of the usual suspects; green cardamom, saffron, ground mace… I’ll stop before I slip into a spice coma.
Goodnight, sleep tight and sweet dreams.