"Chai" can mean many different types of tea. (In fact, chai actually means tea in multiple languages.) Real Indian chai, the kind you get from chai-wallahs in India, is not quite the same brew you get here in the U.S. Now don't get me wrong---I love a good soy chai latte from a certain coffee chain here, but it's just in a different category.
After watching a friend's mother make masala chai in her kitchen in Mumbai, I was inspired to learn how to make it myself. It's not particularly difficult, you just need the right spices. And, of course, black tea. Oh yes, and plenty of half and half--if you want it to taste authentic.
I bought my tea in Mysore, India, from a roadside bulk tea vendor, but it's possible to get it mail-order in the states (and possibly at some specialty markets). The CTC on the package means that it's "crush-tear-curl" processed, which makes the tea leaves end up looking like this.
The nice thing is that all you really have to do is throw everything in a pot and let it boil together for about 15 minutes. The hard part is that you should stir it constantly, or at least very frequently. I didn't have any half and half, so the tea pictured above is made with soy---a hybrid of my two favorite types of chai.
The recipe below is for one cup of chai, but it can easily be doubled (or otherwise scaled up). Much of the liquid cooks off, concentrating the flavors.
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 1 tsp black tea
- 3 whole cardamom pods
- 2 pea-sized pieces mashed fresh ginger*
- 1/2 stick cinnamon (or more if it's not fresh)
- 3-4 black peppercorns
- Sugar to taste (I used 2 teaspoons)
- Stir all ingredients together in a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring very frequently. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil and stir for 15 minutes. Stir in sugar to dissolve.
- Remove from heat. Strain through a fine mesh strainer (or cheese cloth) either directly into the cup or into another pot. I used a molinillo to create a little froth before I served it.