The illusion of spring was short-lived. While the rest of the country was digging itself out of snow drifts for most of January, here in San Francisco we inhaled the five weeks of dry, balmy weather in the 60s and 70s. This week the rain—much-needed rain—returned and for the past five days rain has poured from the sky by the bucketfuls. There’s nothing like rain to make me want to crawl in bed and cuddle up with a novel and a cup of homemade chai. While I haven’t had the chance to relax and read this week, homemade chai has sustained me through the cool, dark afternoons.
Like many good things, chai’s true identity has been obscured its counterfeits. We’ll call them chai posers. I’ll be the first to admit that I have indulged in and loved these chai posers. In middle school, my best friend Erica and I were excited to discover this exotic yet familiarly-spiced tea. Following a recipe, we mixed powdered spices into condensed milk. A spoonful of this syrupy mixture added sweet hints of cinnamon and ginger to our cups of black tea.
Then, in high school, the Starbuck’s chai tea lattes took the hot beverage world by storm. These chai lattes were an obvious choice for the youth who hadn’t yet become a coffee drinker. While sipping this cloying beverage, my friends and I debated whether our snowy white chai lattes actually contain ed tea or not: the beverage name included the word “tea,” but it neither tasted nor looked anything like tea.
Next, visiting missionaries brought the thick, spiced, strong tea from Nepal. One sip of this chai and I knew it was The Real Deal. Made with black tea, milk, cardamom pods and other whole spices, there was no denying that this was the authentic chai after which so many chai-posers had been striving.
The word chai simply means tea. The other things we associate with chai—milk, spices, sugar—are added to the tea based on region and preference. For example, Sam grew up drinking chai in Pakistan that contained milk, cardamom and sugar in addition to black tea. In other places, the spices include ginger, cloves, cinnamon or black pepper. Kashmiri chai is pink in color and contains saffron and almonds. Each family has their own way of brewing chai, making it a highly personal beverage. This leaves plenty of room for playing around when you make your own chai. Stuck inside the house on a rainy day? Pull some spices from your cupboard and experiment with making chai just the way you like it. Then cuddle up with a good book and enjoy the rain.
Makes 2 servings
2 mugs of water
2-3 teaspoons strong loose leaf black tea, such as Tetley’s (see photo below)
Spices (choose what you like):
4 cardamom pods, crushed
9 black peppercorns, crushed
4 cloves, crushed
1 inch cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons diced fresh ginger
½ cup milk (whole milk is best)
Make the Chai
Heat water, tea and spices in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and boil for at least 5 minutes. Pour in milk, turn heat to low and simmer for at least 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Strain tea and sweeten to taste with sugar.