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Indian Tea - The Art of Chai
By Yvonne Eve Walus

Indian tea? What's that? Doesn't all tea come from India? At least the non-green non-jasmine fermented variety?

Well, I could tell you about the difference between Ceylon tea and Malay tea cultivated in Cameron Highlands, I could quote percentages and argue whether or not Darjeeling is indeed the champagne of teas. But this article is not about tea. It's about the art of Chai.

Chai (pronounced to rhyme with 'pie') is a spiced milk and tea concoction that is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. It produces a soothing effect, acts as a natural digestive aid and gives one a wonderful sense of wellbeing. On a chilly evening, the viscous liquid warms up the body and spirit. And, woman, does it have atmosphere!

Talking around a pot of Chai is as easy as talking over frothy cups of cappuccino, and even adamant coffee lovers switch over to Chai when touring India. Although every Indian household has its own 'only original' traditional recipe, Chai is generally made up of: tea leaves, rich milk, a combination of various spices and a sweetening agent. The spices used vary from region to region, the most common including cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper. Of course the modern world has elevated Chai to new planes of experience: Chai ices, Chai-ccino, shakes, chocolate Chai, non-fat, artificial sweetener Chai, decaf, and so on. But traditional Chai must be hot, creamy, fragrant with tea, and contain enough sugar to bring out the spices. Even those who usually drink their tea black would never dream of skimping on milk or sugar in their Chai.



What tea to use? Definitely loose leaf rather than tea bags, and black rather than green (with the exception of Kashmiri Chai which takes green tea and no milk), but whatever your favourite, make sure it's good quality. I've experimented with Darjeeling and Twinings Irish Breakfast, and the final decision depends on how much tea-flavour you want.

The actual method of brewing Chai also has two distinct schools of thought. One: throw everything together into a COLD mixture of milk and water, then boil; and two: throw in the spices into BOILING water, simmer for several minutes, then add the tea and milk. The choice, as with the actual spices and tea leaves used, is personal. Brewing Chai is fun and it allows you to experiment until you get it 'just right' for your taste.

Chai was part of our staple diet during our holiday in India. And the first thing I bought when we arrived home was full cream milk and five varieties of tea. Leaves, naturally.

 



The Recipes

Traditional Chai


Grind together:

1 teaspoon fresh chopped ginger
1/3 cinnamon stick
8 cloves
6 cardamom pods
2 peppercorns

Into 2 cups of cold water and 2 cups of cold full cream milk, add 3 teaspoons tea and the ground spices. Heat, stirring continually until it boils, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.



Westernised Chai


2 teaspoons fresh chopped ginger
1/2 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
6 cardamom pods
1 vanilla stick
dash nutmeg
heaping Tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup honey
3 teaspoons tea
2 cups water
2 cups milk

Bring the water to a boil and toss in the ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add milk and bring to boil, then take off heat. Strain through strainer or coffee filter and serve hot or in a tall glass filled with ice.



Kashmiri Chai

In 4 cups of cold water, boil three teaspoons green tea. When the liquid turns green (5-10 minutes), add:

1ml ground cloves
2ml ground cinnamon
7ml ground cardamom
and 15ml ground almond and simmer for 5 minutes. (Optional: if you have good quality GENUINE saffron, you may add a pinch with the rest of the spices.) Strain, add sugar to taste (no milk) and serve with almond flakes.

Note: 5ml = 1 teaspoon, so 1ml is a scant 1/4 teasp., 2ml = scant 1/2 t., 7ml = scant 1/2 Tablespoon, and 15ml is 1 Tablespoon


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Do you have a question, comment or would like to submit a favorite recipe of your own? We'd love to hear from you! We are especially interested in recipes which have a cultural significance, or story behind them, or which are associated with various holidays around the world. Drop us a line and tell us about it. The Fat Man's Kitchen


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