America may run on Dunkin, but India runs on chai! Growing up in any Indian household, the sweet smell of cardamom and milk seeps into the bedroom just like the morning light would through the curtains. It's a symbol of a new morning - the first beat of the day.
In India, roadside chai walas are scattered everywhere. Clusters of people will stand around unassuming and unmarked stalls from the crack of dawn, sipping sweet chai in tiny glasses or unglazed clay pots. The chai wala's apprentices will scurry through the chaotic streets, dodging motorbikes, cars and cattle, with an order of a dozen small cups clinking in wired racks, to nearby offices, shops and businesses. Chai transcends all borders of class or status and is an important beat in the rhythm of the day to the citizens of India. It is embedded within the culture and every conversation from political affairs to marital affairs is naturally, had over a cup of chai.
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Masala chai is an amalgamation of spices that are brewed with black tea, then with milk and sugar. Every chai wala, family and individual have their own recipe for brewing the tea, some adding more than just spices. This is my version of Masala Chai - something I prepare with a lot of love and soul everyday part of my morning ritual. If you do not have all of the spices handy, you can add whichever those you have or play around with the combinations to suit your taste. I have experimented with lots of variations and this is my absolute favorite. Besides black tea, milk, water, and sugar, you will need the following:-
Cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and star anise along with the ginger are warming and heat your interior. To offset this, fennel and mint are added which cool the body. Cardamom is versatile and has both cooling and warming properties, thus balances and regulates body temperature.
Please note, this is for two large mugs or four small cups of tea.
To start, add all the spices to a pot of water. I usually grind my cardamom in bulk using a spice grinder so it is in powder form, as well as cracking the black pepper. If you do not have a spice grinder, you can use a mortar and pestle to grind the cardamom and black pepper to a coarse powder, enough to extract its flavors. I throw in the clove, star anise and fennel seeds whole with 1 inch of cinnamon stick. You can use a pinch of cinnamon powder if you do not have the cinnamon stick. Next, grate ginger on a Microplane and add that to the water, along with the fresh mint. If you do not have fresh mint on hand, you can use 1/2 teaspoon of dried mint as an alternative or omit it completely. Set the gas on medium heat and let that brew for around five minutes minutes. The color of the water should turn amber.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the loose black tea. If you do not have loose black tea, simply cut open two teabags and mix those in. The teabag itself absorbs a lot of the flavor so we want to add loose tea. The tea will cause the water to bubble and rise, so stir the tea in, folding it into the water as it will want to sit to the top. Let this brew with the mixture for another minute. The color will turn from a dark red to dark brown.
Next, you will add the milk, sugar and more cardamom. Indian tea is always sweet so sugar is a must. I recommend using brown sugar. Adding cardamom again with the milk allows the flavor to be absorbed deeper, amplifying the taste of the cardamom. Once you have added all three, stir the tea mixture on medium high heat. Do not step away now as the milk will soon start to boil and it can get messy if you don't reduce the heat on time. Once it start to boil, reduce the heat low - low enough for it to keep to a steady simmer without boiling over. Let this simmer for another ten minutes.
Once brewed, pour the tea into your cup using a tea strainer, and voila! Masala Chai without a ticket to India!
We have all been asked to grab a coffee, but nobody will ask to grab a chai - that's because chai is a ritual that's performed with time. It is a ritual made for the coming together of people; to connect and to converse. Chai requires love, time and attention to prepare, and you sip on it as slowly as it took you to concoct. If somebody invites you over for chai, bask in that honor for you are someone special to them!
I am excited for you to try this and let me know what you think! Perhaps invite a friend and enjoy a cup of chai together.
Prep time: 1 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes Yield: 4 small / 2 large Origin: India Author: Anika Pannu
2 1/2 cups water
2 twists of cracked black pepper or 1 peppercorn crushed
1 star anise
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
2 teaspoons of ground cardamom, divided
1 inch cinnamon stick or a pinch of cinnamon powder
1.5 inch grated ginger
10 - 15 fresh mint leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
2 teaspoons loose black tea, or the tea from 2 teabags cut open
1 1/2 cups milk
5 teaspoons brown sugar
1. Add the water to a pot on medium heat
2. Add all of the spices (saving 1 teaspoon of cardamom), ginger and mint to the water
3. Brew for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally
4. Reduce the heat to medium low and add 2 teaspoons of loose black tea, folding into the water and stirring
5. Brew for 1 minute
6. Add milk, sugar and the reserved 1 teaspoon of cardamom, raising the heat to medium high
7. Stir the mixture with a large spoon
8. As soon as the tea starts to boil, reduce the heat to low - low enough for it to simmer without boiling over
9. Allow tea to simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally
10. Using a tea strainer, pour the tea into cups and serve hot