Custom Search

May 27, 2008

There's chai and there's chai

One of my favourite things about India was waking up to the chai wallah chanting "chai, chai, garam chai, masala chai, chai, chai..." Chai in India is less like tea, and more like fuel, an immensely strong, sweet, spicy brew taken by the shot (rather than the litre) to power you through the day.

Chai in Australia is such a very different thing. It's not bad, it's just not chai. I am slowly coming to realise that chai means something quite different in this country than in it's homeland.

Traditionally soy, syrups, honey and vanilla would never enter a chai wallah's mind. Every chai wallah, and indeed every housewife, has their own distinct blend, but none I've tasted in cafes around Melbourne are even remotely similar to their namesake, and here's why. Chai is tea, it shouldn't be made from a powder or syrup. And secondly tea should be brewed in water, it won't steep in milk, so if your drinking "chai" that is all milk it's gonna taste more like hot milk than tea.

Everyone will have a different masala (spice mix) according to preference, pocket, dosha and the seasons. As a general rule key spices are fresh ginger and ground cardamom, but you really can add anything you want, see below for suggestions for each dosha. Fennel is my absolute favourite. Below is my own blend, follow the method to infuse the flavours properly, but change the ingredients to suit you. Milk is more easily digested when prepared this way due to the heat and the spices.

(makes 2 cups, can be easily doubled or tripled or more)
  • 6 pods of cardamom
  • fresh ginger (how much depends on how strong the ginger is, less is more-don't blow your brains out)
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon on tea (buy the cheapest tea you can find at your local Indian grocery store, don't use single origin English Breakfast, chai should be made from the sweepings on the tea factory floor)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • a scant cup of milk

Bash up the spices a little in a mortar or pestle and combine with tea and about 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for just two or three minutes to steep the tea. Then add milk and bring to boil again. Watch it carefully or you'll end up with milk everywhere. Strain out the tea and spices and enjoy.

Add a pinch of jaggary to taste, these days in India they use castor sugar by the kilo, but I'm a stickler for health, and jaggary tastes much better too.

Vata: Any spices but not too much heat: avoid black pepper and ginger powder.
Pitta: cool or neutral spices like fennel, cardamom, vanilla.
Kapha: Any spices but especially hot spices like black pepper and cloves, ginger powder instead of fresh ginger, more water and less milk. Cardamom will aid digestion of milk, let cool and sweeten with honey instead of sugar.

*Since posting this a number of comments have appeared linking to commercial chai syrups etc. Needless to say I won't be publishing them! Chai is very easy to make with a little practice and the right ingredients-don't fall victim to marketing telling you it's hard.


ServesYouRight said...

The subcontinent's ways have won you over :-) "sweepings on the tea factory floor" - you brave creature! Good on you :-)


notyet100 said...

nice post,..even i miss indian chai..when i vist rest here, have stopped ordering..chai,..prefer homeone...

Cindy said...

I like the spiciness of chai (ginger and cardamom are all-time favourites) and have similarly struggled to find cafe/restaurant versions that appeal to my taste. Thanks for this recipe, I'm keen to perfect my own blend at home!

Where do you buy jaggary?

Nithu said...

I always prefer chai to coffee. That too masala chai is my favourite. It just refreshes my mind and give a warm feeling. I have never tried it with fennel seeds. Should try..

Purnima said...

Julia, you are very much into Ayurved! (I m Indian)Something that most of Indians delve into!Loved ur article on Chai (I call other non-Indian teas fashionable ones) Liked your recipe for Chai too!! U hv lovely blog!!!!(Especially I love to read abt- Vata,Pitta,Kapa-etc!)Keep the good work going!

Julia said...

Smita-The subcontinent certainly has won me over, my Indian friends say I must have been Indian in my past lives! Though maybe I am a little too brave-I did, after all, contract multiple infectious diseases on my trip...

notyet100-I miss Indian chai too! Though I'm getting pretty good at making my own-no point drinking the cafe stuff.

Cindy-you can buy jaggary (unrefined cane sugar) in big brown lumps in Indian grocery stores. You can use palm sugar (from asian grocery stores) but I prefer jaggary.

Purnima-I am very much into Ayurveda. Am chuffed an Indian approves of my recipe!

Julia said...

Cindy-one more thing, since you live in Melbourne, I specifically buy my jaggary from India at Home in Clayton. It's miles away, but it's fantastic. We go every month or two to stock up on all sorts of exciting things. It's an Indian version of the Mediterranean Wholesaler on Sydney Road (which I also love!)

Cindy said...

Thanks Julia! I've bookmarked this post for future reference - will try my local Indian grocers first and then perhaps venture further to Clayton later! In the meantime, I have plenty of palm sugar in the pantry. :-)

Julia said...

Sorry Nithu, you got lost in there somehow. Yes, fennel is a little unusual, I only came across it a couple of months ago when my friend made me chai and I couldn't pick the flavour. It's surprisingly good!

Swati Raman Garg said...

hey julia this is my first time here.. and i enjoyed my 10 min stay.. i will come back again.. its such a nice feeling that u enjoy indian food, ayurveda, chai etc.. hats off to u .. will keep visiting..

Sangeeth said...

lovely post...reminds me of my moms chai...i used to take chai regularly..but now i have stopped..luv chai..its very refreshing

A-kay said...

The title said it all and I agree with your Indian friends - I think you were a desi in your previous life :)

TS said...

I cannot do without chai....ginger and cardamom is my choice always...fennel is a great idea!

Lucy said...

Juila, so pleased to have found you (via Vegeyum of A Life (Time) Of Cooking)!

Beautiful Chai. Clayon's not too far from me, so I'll be visiting India at Home soon.

Julia said...

Do try fennel Trupti, it's changed my chai forever!

Lovely to meet you Lucy. Thanks for reminding me to get back to Vegeyum's blog too!

lothi said...

lovely post and doing a great job! Never tried with fennel...great to hear! will surely try out