Do any of you watch The Big Bang Theory? We do, and we are all addicted to the show, even Aditi. She can sing the whole theme song, including the autotrophs drooling and the neanderthals developing tools (The Barenaked Ladies would be so proud!). Anyway, I digress. The reason I brought up the show is because, if you've watched it, you'll know that one of the favourite pastimes of the boys is teasing the staff at the Apple store. Well, one of my favourite things is to tease the wait staff at coffee shops here when they ask me if I want 'chai tea'... I tell them they've just asked me if I want 'tea tea', as the word 'chai' basically just means 'tea' in Hindi (and assorted Indian languages)
Tea. The ultimate comfort drink, anytime day or night. Well beloved of the English and all over the world, including China and India. The variations in the way people drink tea is amazing, each region having their own twists and traditions. The Chinese like it light, the English love their 'builder's tea', the Japanese have an entire ritual around it, and the Indians... well, we love our tea stewed to death with spices and sugary enough that it could be classed as a dessert. Kim at Jhovaan has a really interesting post here on Badawi Shai or Bedouin Tea.
I read this article in Maclean's the other day and had a bit of a snigger at it. Tea snobs, for example, or this whole thing of serving masala chai in 'silence'. I get that people don't want to be disturbed by others yakking away on mobiles, but the whole snobbery around masala chai did bring about some snorts of laughter. Laughter, because,
a) India is probably the least quiet of any country in the world and
b) Chai is one of the basic necessities of Indian life, so to be snobbish about it is actually laughable.
Another example from the article '“They” are the growing minority of masala chai snobs. “The demand for better masala chai can be explained by what happened to yoga,” noted Venk Prabhu, owner of Shanti Tea...“People realized that yoga was more than just exercise. They realized, ‘Hey, we’re only doing part of the practice. We want to be purists.’ Same goes for chai.” (Maclean's 2011)
The killer line for me was '“We learned that chai is all about having that Zen moment and lingering. Customers acquire a more sophisticated palate and aspire to another level.” (Maclean's 2011)
This is the point I totally lost it, and fell over laughing!! Zen in a cup of chai? Aspiring to a higher level? Of what? I would imagine the chaiwallahs in India would have a really good laugh at that too.
Anyway, the article did push me write this post on chai. Now, masala chai, like curry powder has no one recipe. So to claim that my recipe is authentic will be arrogant and erroneous. What I will say though, is that this is a recipe that is perfected by me, and has been enjoyed by my family. Everyone in India (and the world, including Starbucks) will claim that their chai recipe is the best, and it could very well be the truth (don't know about the Starbucks version though!) But the whole point of chai, is that it will always be as individual as the person preparing it.
It could be as easy as throwing some cardamom and ginger into a cup of black tea and swirling in lots of milk and sugar. Or you could, as in the Maclean's article, spend an entire day stirring a pot of chai. Either way, you adapt the recipe to suit your taste and spice cupboard.
I will, however, make the extravagant claim that nothing beats the taste of freshly brewed chai, with those lovely spicy hints, and warm memories of cold winter's days in Delhi, sitting around in dhabas, debating politics :-) Betcha not even that Montreal teashop can top that!
1 tsp whole green cardamoms
1 tsp whole cloves
1 or 2 inch piece of cinnamon
3 - 4 petals of a star anise
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
½ inch piece of ginger, crushed
Around 4 tsp of loose strong black tea (or 2 black teabags)
Milk and sugar to taste
Take the seeds out of the cardamom pods. In a mortar and pestle, crush all the spices coarsely. Don't worry about getting them into a fine powder.
Mix the loose tea (or teabag) and the spices in a teapot. Add the ginger and just boiled water and let it steep for at least 3 - 5 minutes. The tea will be quite strong, so if you prefer a lighter tea without milk, then steep for only 2 minutes.
Strain the tea into mugs or teacups, add milk and sugar to taste, and serve.