Sunday, October 16, 2016

Warming Masala Chai for Winter Days

Warming Masala Chai for Winter Days 
 Mary Ellen Wilcox
      The word chai simply means tea in many parts of the world.  When we Americans speak of chai we actually mean Masala chai which is a beverage made using black tea, spices, milk and sweetener.
     Masala chai has existed for 1,000's of years, and lore says that it began in an ancient royal court in India 9000 years ago.  Others say it is of Thai origin.  Whether India or Thailand, it is believed that it was created as an Ayurvedic mixture and cleansing remedy for minor health problems.
   In its early history it was made with a diverse mixture of spices, was served hot or cold, and prepared by many different methods.  Blends varied from area to area, and even from home to home in a particular area.

   In the 1830's Britain established a tea plantation in Assam, India.  The black teas grown there eventually became part of the original spice recipes, and became masala chai as we know it today.
     In India, tea was not popular with the masses because most of it was exported, and was too expensive for use by the Indian people.  Then in the early 1900's the British owned India Tea Association began to promote the use of tea within India.  To keep costs down, vendors used the milk, spice and sugar to give the brews flavor and sweetness, and make it affordable to the Indian people.
    Masala  became even more popular when a mechanized method of production of the black tea made it affordable to the average person.  This method, called CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl), may have lacked the nuances  required of whole leaf tea connoisseurs, but its strong tannic flavor made it a perfect product for the sweet, spicy masala blends.        
     Masala chai is usually made with the Assam CTC black tea, but Assam full leaf, Ceylon black teas, Darjeeling black teas, and even green tea (usually gunpowder green).  Rooibos (red tea) can also be used.
     The milk is usually whole milk, but half & half, low fat milk or other dairy substitutes can be used.  The sweetening used in India is an unrefined cane sugar from crushed sugar cane stalks with a flavor similar to molasses.  Turbinado sugar is a good substitute for this, and honey makes an excellent sweetener.
     Spices vary by location and personal preference.  Typical combinations include cinnamon, cardamom, ginger,  cloves and peppercorns.  Allspice, fennel, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, mace and star anise can also be used.
     In India chai is served by street vendors and train vendors (called wallahs).  Chai is used to welcome guests into the home.  A popular time for chai is an afternoon snack around 4 P.M. and usually includes savory treats. 

 Basic Masala Chai
2 cups milk or milk substitute
2 cups water
4 whole cloves
2 crushed green cardamom pods
2 crushed peppercorn
1 cinnamon stick
1 small piece peeled chopped ginger root 
2 tbsp. turbinado sugar
2 tbsp. black tea leaves (preferably Assam)
   Combine milk, water and spices in a medium saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add sugar and tea leaves.  Stir and simmer for 5 minutes.  Strain into mugs.

Masala Chai
2 cups water
4 tsp. loose black tea
1 piece dry ginger
3 cardamom pods, crushed
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Milk and sugar to taste
   Chop up ginger into fine pieces.  Break up cinnamon stick .  Bring 2 cups water to a boil.  Add tea leaves and all spices.  Let everything brew at the boil for 30 to 45 seconds.  Remove from heat and steep for 1-2 minutes.  Serve with only a bit of milk and sugar.

Masala Chai with Fennel
1 cup water
1 cup whole milk
3 tsp. tea leaves (Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling)
1" piece dry ginger
3 cardamom pods, split open
2 peppercorns
2 cloves
1" piece cinnamon
1 tsp. fennel seeds
Sugar to taste
   Grind all spices together coarsely and set aside.  Mix milk and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil on high.  As the milk/water mix rises to a boil, add the spice mix and reduce to a simmer.  When it rises to a boil again, add the tea leaves.  Allow to rise then turn off heat.  Cover and steep for 2 minutes.  Strain, add sugar and enjoy.

Green Tea Chai
2 tbsp. green tea leaves
6 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup milk
4 cups water
   Boil water, then simmer with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves for about 10 minutes.  Add tea and steep 5 minutes.  Add milk and heat to near boiling.  Turn off heat, strain out spices and tea leaves.  Serve with honey.

Cardamom Herbal Chai
4 cups water
12 slightly crushed green cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns, cracked
3 tsp. chopped ginger
Honey to taste
Milk to taste
   Bring water to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and add spices.  Keep at simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.  Stir in honey.  Add milk to taste.
Makes 3 cups
 
      

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