I’ve been experimenting with chai since first writing about it three years ago. Not because I don’t have anything better to do – but because it somehow seemed a little flat.
Especially after I had chai at Rose DeNeve’s house some time back. Rose is an author, avid bird watcher and traveler who has been to India many times. Her chai is some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of sipping -- and it stuck in my food memory.
Besides the usual loose-leaf black tea, milk and spices (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper, Rose said she likes to add anise to her spice mix. Anise is very aromatic, and takes chai in a different direction, adding slight licorice flavor.
So naturally, I started adding anise to my chai – both anise seed and star anise. I’ve also been throwing in some extra black peppercorns and whole allspice to the mix and not holding back on the fresh ginger. I’ve been going light on the sugar, however, because you can’t take it out once it’s in there.
Better safe than sorry.
“Your chai keeps getting better,’’ Robert said this morning, after I heated up a cup and filled the kitchen with its wonderful, spicy aroma.
Who doesn’t like hearing a compliment like that?
Next time I make chai, I’m going to add some freshly grated nutmeg and see what that brings to the party. Maybe that will make the chai better yet. Or maybe it won’t. You don’t know until you try.
Chai: Updated Version
2 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks, broken up
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
12 black peppercorns
2 whole star anise, broken up
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon anise seed
14 green cardamom pods, slit open with paring knife
2-inch knuckle fresh ginger, skin removed, sliced then "bruised" with knife
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons loose black tea (I like Red Label; available at Indian specialty stores)
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar (or honey)
2 cups milk (1/2 cup half and half and 1.5 cups 2 percent milk works nicely)
Place the cloves, allspice and black pepper in a mortar and pestle and crack slightly. Place all the spices in a saucepan. Cover with 2 cups cold water and bring to gentle boil. Remove from heat, cover and let spices steep for an hour or more.
Re-heat water and spices over medium-medium-high heat. When hot, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add milk and continue heating, being careful not to scald it (you don't want “skin” on milk). Add black tea, stir gently and let steep for 4 minutes.
Strain chai through fine mesh colander into a bowl (or a 4-cup Pyrex glass measure, if you have one). If serving immediately, return to pan and keep over very low heat. If not, let the chai cool and transfer to a 1-quart Mason jar for storage. If you store the chai, shake it up a bit before you serve/drink.
Tip: Rinse off a couple of the ginger pieces and some broken up cinnamon and place in bottom of Mason jar for added flavor.