An Introduction to Chai Tea

I’ve become accustomed to drinking both coffee and tea at various intervals during the day, depending on my mood. I drink the coffee mainly for the caffeine. I drink the tea when I want caffeine accompanied by pleasant flavor. Until recently, I was satisfied with purchasing my tea the way most of us do; in little packets at the supermarket, sealed up in colorful boxes with fancy artwork, boasting tantalizing flavors, such as Vanilla Honey, English Breakfast, or Apple Spice.

A recent journey through Chinatown in NY brought me to an Asian supermarket where I was introduced to the wonderful world of loose tea displayed in large glass jars, enticing you to lift the lids and breath deep the fragrant aromas. Jasmine Teas, Green Teas, Black Teas infused with herbs and spices. Far from being a tea connoisseur, I based my purchase on scent alone, happy with my one pound bag of black tea.

I can honestly say it will be hard to return to any mere tea bag. The fresh tea possesses not only the wonderful strong aroma, but it nearly instantly revitalizes you. Of course this is a property of black tea, which normally contains significantly more caffeine than other teas, as well as a more apparent flavor. There are many varieties of black tea hailing from several provinces, such as China and India, infused with all manner of herbs and flavors. To drink black tea on its own, I recommend you simply choose a flavor that you are happy with.

However, for the purposes of Chai Tea, which uses black tea as one of its primary ingredients, I prefer to use an Indian Black Tea, seeing as Chai Tea is a drink primarily introduced in India, though its allure has spread to much of the world. The Indian word for ‘tea’ is in fact Chai.

With a hefty bag of black tea in my possession, and a healthy pantry full of all manner of herbs and spices, I was now ready to create my own blend of chai tea. You’ll likely find gourmet varieties of packaged chai tea in your local supermarkets, but once you have prepared your own batch, you’ll find that the pre-packaged sort simply does not compare.

There is no standard recipe for chai tea. Basically, it is a mixture of black tea with various herbs and spices, optionally blended with milk depending upon your preference. The mixture of ingredients varies according to each region and recipe, but the most traditional include peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger. As with black tea, other ingredients are sometimes employed to lend a specific flavor to the herbal fusion, such as vanilla, chocolate, coconut, or anise.

As a basic introduction, I would prepare a blend of one tablespoon each cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, black peppercorns, and two cinnamon sticks, along with 3-4 cups of water, and bring to a simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Then, add 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite black tea, and if you prefer a sweetener, 2-3 tablespoons of honey or brown sugar. Simmer another 10 minutes. While your chai is being prepared, the house will fill itself with this heavenly aroma, easily putting any air freshener to shame.

Traditionally, you would add 1 cup of milk at this point, then strain the liquid into cups and serve, but you can omit the milk if you prefer. Again, as there is no specific guideline to follow, feel free to experiment with different quantities of herbs and spices, adding your own variations on taste with the infusion of other flavors. Behind your pantry door is a bright world of flavorful creativity in which almost anything in your spice rack can be employed. The internet will likely hold hundred of recipes to sample from.

Aside from this new and exciting tea that graces your taste buds, you will receive the added benefits of healthy antioxidants, which are inherently powerful in black tea, as well as the medicinal qualities of the herbs and spices you’ve used to prepare your tea. Nearly every ingredient possesses a specific beneficial quality to help your body and provide your immune system with an extra dose of strength. It is also especially useful as a digestive aid; enjoy a soothing cup or two after a meal. I wouldn’t be surprised if you make it a daily routine.

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