After my first experience with chai I was positive that I would never be a fan. It was on my second last day in Kenya at café situated in a very western shopping mall (sadly it just highlights how our western influences are slowly – and sometimes not so slowly – permeating every corner of the earth). I figured where better to try chai for the first time than a nation whose food is heavily influenced by Indian cuisine? Unfortunately, the drink in question was lacking in flavour and sickly sweet. So much so that I struggled to finish it, which is saying something as I pride myself in not being a fussy eater. By that point I was on my last few Kenyan shillings, therefore it was disappointing to see them disappear on such an ordinary beverage. The memory sticks out as it was one of the only ‘negative’ encounters that I experienced during my five weeks in Kenya. Is it too strange to say that the chai was more mood-dampening than my brush with typhoid? It probably is, but after hearing so much praise about chai I had very high (and perhaps unreasonable) expectations.
Fortunately since that first encounter my experiences with chai have been far more in line with my initial hopes. I am now an avid chai drinker and have gone so far as to start making my own. So what changed? The sweetness factor. The drink I had in Nairobi was far sweeter than any I have tasted here in Australia or in the UK (mum and I both agree that even certain cafe chai’s are still too sweet, however neither of us have a big sweet tooth when it comes to hot beverages). Chai is intended to be relatively sugary so as to emphasise the spices, however it doesn’t need to be to the extent that it masks them (as was the case in Nairobi). It’s no good if you can smell the beautiful aromas but not taste them. It’s like teasing a dog with a bone. Just plain mean. In no way do I claim to be a chai expert, however I’m pretty confident that my sugar theory stands. When making it at home I like to pop in a stevia tablet, however honey or brown sugar would also work well.
Similar to the sugar, everyone has their own preferences regarding the quantity of milk. I’ve come up with what I believe is the perfect balance, however if you like your beverages to be particularly milky, simply substitute some of the water for more milk. In the same regard, if you don’t like milk or are lactose intolerant it still tastes fine with just water (though the milk is advisable). Any milk will work – my favourites are rice milk or good ol’ cows.
There is something calming yet revitalising about chai. The zing of the ginger, warmth of the cinnamon and cardamom and spiciness of the black pepper is a truly winning combination. Oh, and we can’t forget the cloves that will make your kitchen smell like Christmas. It’s impossible to complain about that, right? So it tastes great and smells like Christmas but is it actually any good for you? Yes sireee – these spices possess many health benefits such as boosting your immune system and your metabolism, reducing bloating and helping to offset sugar cravings. Oh and if you’re a poor lass suffering from PMS then you’re in luck – cinnamon and ginger are known to help balance hormones and alleviate pain. Is there anything this drink can’t do?
Serves 1 (easily multiplied).
3 cardamom pods
2 black peppercorns
1cm thick slice of fresh ginger
½ cinnamon stick (or ½ tsp ground cinnamon, though your tea will be slightly grainy)
1 cup boiling water
1 black tea bag
¼ cup milk of choice
1 stevia tablet/1 tsp honey/brown sugar to taste
Bash the cardamom pods, peppercorns and cloves with a mortar and pestle or squish with the blade of a large knife.
Pop the crushed spices into a small pot along with the ginger and cinnamon. Pour over the boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let steep for 5 minutes.
Return to the heat and bring to a boil. Add the tea bag and simmer gently for 3 minutes.
Strain and return the liquid to the pot. Pour in the milk and add your choice of sweetener. Simmer very gently for 2 minutes then pour into a mug to serve.
Source: A Taste Without Waste original. Inspired by Wholefoods Market