I still remember the cold winter’s night that I tried my first sweet, spicy, soothing cup of hot masala chai at my friend Sally’s house. It was the late 90s and we were both studying naturopathic medicine and loved experimenting with herbs, spices and oils…and in those days, chai was completely unheard of in cafes. It was consumed mainly in boho-type circles by hippies, yogis and adventurers who had fallen in love with the drink while travelling in India or Nepal.
Once I got to India and Nepal myself a few years later, I enjoyed many delightful moments sipping hot cups of fragrant chai – in colonial tea houses in misty Darjeeling, while gazing at a Himalayan sunrise in Nepal, even at dusty stations while waiting for early-morning buses. Since coming home, “chai-lattes” seem to have become the trendy tea in hipster cafes, but the sickly-sweet flavoured syrups and powders they pass off as chai don’t taste anything like the real thing!
So now, I either make my own with fresh spices (the best!) or I buy a quality loose blended mix from a health food store and brew it myself in a pot (but making it yourself is more fun plus you can experiment with the spices you like!)
To clarify, “chai” in Hindi simply means tea, the spicy drink unique to the Indian subcontinent is known as “masala chai”, masala meaning “mix” refers to the mix of spices added to the tea – so if you are joining me on my retreat in Nepal this year, be sure to ask for “masala chai” if that is what you want! (And a “masala omlette” is a spicy omlette with onion, tomatoes and diced hot chilli!)
The following recipe makes a decent-sized batch that you can keep in a jar at home and just use a few spoonfuls at a time when the urge arises. I like my chai with a warming, spicy kick so my recipe uses added fresh ginger in the brewing stage.
(For the Blend)
200g loose leaf black tea (Black Formosan or Darjeeling are good!)
10 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
2 tbsp black peppercorns
1/2 cup of green cardamon pods smashed
1/2 cup star anise
(For 1 Cup of Brewed Chai)
1 cup of milk (I use soy or almond milk) or you can use half water/half milk
1 heaped teaspoon of chai blend
1-inch piece of fresh ginger cut into thin rounds
Sweetener of choice: one tsp brown sugar/honey or stevia to taste.
Heat the milk, chai blend and fresh ginger in a saucepan (if you are using water and milk, brew the chai and the fresh ginger with the water first for several minutes so that the flavours penetrate the water, then add the milk and slowly simmer for several more minutes) until the milk starts to froth and foam, then turn off the heat, strain, add your sweetener and enjoy that spicy goodness!
The spices in the chai are excellent for digestion and circulation -especially in cold weather – and the black tea is a good source of antioxidants to help prevent cellular damage and ageing – so not only is it delicious, it is good for you too.
And if you too want to sip an authentic chai while gazing at an extraordinary Himalayan sunrise, check out my upcoming retreat to Nepal!