Chai is the word for tea in many parts of the world and is almost always served with milk. Masala means spice mixture. So technically, chai tea latte means milky tea milk and the first (and last) time I ordered a milky tea milk from Starbucks that is exactly what I got – steamed milk with about ¼ cup of what tasted like sweet cinnamon water. The taste was less than inspiring and made me realize what I wanted the world to know — REAL CHAI MASALA DOES NOT TASTE LIKE THAT!
The oldest stories of masala chai (spiced tea) dates back thousands of years to Southeast Asia. According to ancient lore a king created it as a an Ayurvedic beverage for medicinal purposes to cleanse and restore the body. The British East India Company introduced black tea in India in 1834 and tea became part of the drink.
Chai produces a warming, soothing effect, acts a natural digestive aid. The spices are considered “Sattvic” or calming, vitalizing and mentally clarifying. Spices used very from region to region and each contains different vitamins and minerals that help improve circulation and immune function, increase mental clarity and enhance mood. A few are listed below:
Cinnamon – increases circulation and awareness, opens breathing, reduces fatigue.
Cardamom – Aids in digestion. Anti-inflamatory, shown to inhibit cancer growth, lower blood pressure Mood elevator with benefits to lungs, kidneys (detoxification) and heart (lowers blood pressure).
Clove – Pain relieving and antiseptic. Like pepper and ginger, clove is also used to increase potency of other herbs.
Black Pepper – Supports circulation and metabolism. Can help alleviate chronic coldness.
Fennel – One of the worlds healthiest foods. Excellent source of many vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C and potassium. Was found in royal gardens in medieval times and used to treat kidney problems and also laryngitis.
Nutmeg – Calms anxiety, helps cholesterol and depression.
Star Anise – Helps with coldsores, septic shock and tooth decay.
A good cuppa chai should be sweet enough but not too sweet with well-blended spices that have a smooth, not bitter, flavor that opens in a burst of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove and fennel as it heads down your throat. You might even taste for a split second the pungency of black pepper or a tinge of nutmeg. Like dressing at Thanksgiving supper, everyone in India has their own opinions and recipes for what mixture of ingredients makes the best chai.
The recipe below has become a tried and true tradition in our house as the air thins and the cold weather comes. It’s so smooth and warming I’ve known hard core coffee drinkers to set down their cups and ask for chai masala at my table. Recently I knew my message was getting through when I heard one convert say, “Hey! This tastes nothing like the chai tea latte at Starbucks!”
MASALA CHAI RECIPE
Prepare the masala recipe first by grinding the spices together, then add other ingredients and boil. This is quite simple.
Grind these spices to a powder in a blender or coffee grinder and set aside.
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp ginger powder
4-5 cardamom pods
½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 ½ cups purified water
2 Tbsp black tea leaves or two tea bags
2 tsp – 1 Tbsp natural or raw sugar (or to taste)
1 cup milk
In a medium saucepan, boil water, tea leaves, ¾ tsp of the masala powder and sugar. Mix well and let heat to almost boiling.
Add your milk of choice. Bring to just boiling. Reduce heat. Simmer a few minutes. Strain and serve hot. Add more sweetener if needed.
Milk: Any milk, dairy or non-dairy may be used.
Tea: Try with a tea of your choice like green tea, a rooibos, or tulsi basil.
Masala Powder: store extra masala powder in airtight jar and refrigerate.