-a romantic view on chai on my journey to India,
followed by the practicalities of having chai at home in Vancouver, - chai in a beautiful cafe, a jar of pre-made chai to bring home, and a recipe to make it from scratch -
I'm not sure if I made it clear for how long and how badly I wanted to go India.
- the word to me evokes a spirit laden with spices and silk
of elephant goddesses
and camel treks
and maharjas and jewels
Obviously this is a romantic portrayal and the reality of India is complex + layered + chaotic + confusing
+ at times overwhelming
let's talk about chai
and let's make it romantic
20 rupees will get you a little cup of chai
not every cup is created equal
but all have layers of spices + were not like anything I ever have at home
The best chai I've ever had came from a little stall as the sun rose over the lake in Udaipur.
- the golden light -
with elderly gentlemen sitting on stools sipping chai
as the spices simmered + were stirred
Sitting on the top bunk of a sleeper train hearing the call of "Chaiiiii, chaiiiii, chaiii ...."
Watching my new husband sleep as the sun rose on his face
crossed legged on my top bunk
with my cup of chai
Come With Me. Go Places.
The age old battle of all good things must come to an end.
But are worth fighting to say they don't end
they just change
because you change
because the world keeps turning
because what makes things special is that they are fleeting
Doesn't mean I want to live in a chai-less existance for the rest of eternity though.
CHAI SOMEONE ELSE MAKES
Phase 1 of "I'm chai-ing to keep this tea-romance thing i've got going on alive" - get a latte
One of the best decisions in the battle to keep the chai-romance alive at home is to find a place that makes a chai latte that is not made out of sugar syrup.
I tried out Le Marche St George and came across the conundrum that I needed another cup of coffee due to it being the morning but I was also only there to try the chai. How many fluids + time does person have room for?
Solution: a cup of espresso + a chai latte.
The chai latte was made with almond milk, which normally I hate but in this case I thought it was really nice. The tea was super heavy on the pepper but was definitely not a syrup and was served in a beautiful enough cup that I felt some romantic pining could be done rather unabashedly. They also offer a sweet, instead of a spicy chai I will try next time.
PHASE 2 OF "I'M CHAI-ING TO KEEP THIS TEA-ROMANCE THING I'VE GOT GOING ON ALIVE" - buy a jar of chai for home use
I brought home a jar of the spicy Aslan Chai, hand ground and packaged in East Vancouver.
Pssst the "spice" is black pepper.
It's got a long zing on the pallet.
Aslan Chai suggests that you make it in boiling milk and strain it after, but I am currently seive-less (and milk-less) so I made it in vanilla cashew milk and put it into a tea filter bag and boiled a small pot. Certainly not as authentic, but so non-messy its tempting to keep using this method. I liked it quite a bit but Reema wasn't the biggest fan. She didn't like the pepper.
Phase 3 is all about Reema, by the way.
Chai You Make
PHASE 3 OF "I'M CHAI-ING TO KEEP THIS TEA-ROMANCE THING I'VE GOT GOING ON ALIVE" -bribe your friend with donuts + get her to teach you how she was raised to make chai using her mom's recipe
Reema is a wonderful friend + was a wonderful resource for my trip to India.
At one point Kyle + I had really messed up the train and she gave us the name of an uncle who might be able to pull some strings for us. We didn't take advantage but it was nice to know we were sort of "Indian insiders."
My generous-spirit friend brought me a bag each of cardamom + fennel + cloves + a small carton of 2% milk (she was suspicious I might not have any real milk in the house, which I didn't) and after watching her what I learned about making chai is -
- the actual real way to make chai is exactly the way I make everything,
which is, "ehhhhhh that seems about right"
+ maybe this is why I feel so deeply connected to chai + find it so romantic.
If I was a tea, 10,000% it would be Indian/Canadian chai from scratch. Not syrup.
Ingredients for one cup of chai-
- 3 pods of Green Cardamom
- 3 Cloves
- Large pinch of Fennel Seeds
- A cup of milk with fat in it- 2% or higher (the secret is it's got to be fatty or it won't taste as good!)
- A cup of water
- One tea bag of Orange Pekoe
- A spoonful of sugar
- Mortar + pestle (if you don't have one you can use a muddler from your cocktail cupboard)
Crush up the cardamom + fennel + cloves in the mortar. The only thing that really matters for full crushing is the cardamom pods.
Boil a cup of water, throw in the sugar + spices + tea bag + simmer it until it's lovely + fragrant.
Add the milk.
Here's the hot secret. Boil the milk.
Boil it until it rises to the top of the pot, and then lift the pot up until the froth is gone.
Put it down.
Boil // pick it up
Put it down
Boil // pick it up
Put it down + switch off the element.
Apparently around the boiling time is when Reema + her sisters would get bored when they were kids + it would boil over and be a giant disaster.
So don't get bored.
Filter it into your cups + enjoy. With a donut.
After Reema left I made a cup for Kyle but I fully Eva-d the situation and snooped through my house to see what else I could put in. I love a spicy chai and really love fresh ginger in my chai but Reema likes hers sweeter.
3 cardamom pods // 4 cloves // a pinch of fennel // sugar // water // vanilla cashew milk (we drank all the 2% in the first batch) // 2 grinds of black pepper // a cinnamon stick // an orange pekoe tea bag // a tsp or so of ground ginger
I looked around the internet + I think you could replace things // add things // make up things with
Green or Assam or Darjeeling tea // vanilla bean // ground cinnamon // fresh ginger // brown sugar // less fatty milk (although you're really playing with inauthenticity fire on that one) // soy or almond milk // honey // coriander seeds // star anise (gross ewwww, do not serve that to me I hate black licorice so much, nasty, why would you ruin your chai like that?)
Basically it's up to you what you do as long as you have:
- Fennel Seeds
- A milk (almond // soy // 2% // reduced fat // homo // cashew // flavoured)
- A cup of water
- Tea (orange pekoe // green // Darjeeling // Assam )
- Sweetener (white sugar // brown sugar // honey )
- The rest is up to you- but could include none, any or all of the following- (and undoubtedly other spices that match these flavours- maybe try nutmeg or allspice? [the internet did not tell me about these + I haven't tried, but I could see it working, maybe?] ) cinnamon // ginger // pepper // vanilla // star anise // coriander seeds
and then just follow the instructions that Reema gave me about grinding and boiling etc.
Remember how I said I was sieve-less? Well when Reema was here we used our Chemex coffee maker and it worked alright. But when I made chai for Kyle I tried the Chemex method again but it didn't work at all, so I used a cheese grater.
A. Cheese. Grater.
GUYS I HAVE NO CLASS LETS MOVE ON.
It was messy but effective.
Maybe in another life I wouldn't so much be the chai itself, but an alternative messy + effective method of straining the chai.
Guys. I just concluded that my spirit is a Macgyvered cheese grater sieve for chai.
Kyle loved it but I'm going to do even more spices next time + brew it for longer. Maybe 15 minutes or so on a low simmer.
There's something very satisfying about making your own chai. Searching the cupboards and throwing ingredients in and tasting and imagining how you can change it so that it includes
what layers of spices you want
to be simmered + stirred
I hope you make your own + I would love to hear about your chai journey + what spices transport you to ... where?
I've been off in India, wearing a silk Kurta, wandering the crowded + colourful streets and coming to relax + cool off by the water with my cup of chai this whole time...