Today I revisit a recipe that I shared here some years ago. There are some recipes I come back to every season like they are imprinted in my DNA and this is one of them. This simple chai tea mix makes a large quantity to last up to week – a once a week ritual for daily enjoyment. There are many interpretations of chai and some excellent ones now available at cafes that are a far improvement on sugary syrups (I’m looking at you Mister Chai and Sunhouse Chai). My preparation is not overly traditional by any sense, but it is fairly simple to make – 4 spices, orange zest if you like, give it a caffeine boost with black tea or mellower with rooibos (red bush), and sweeten as you desire – or not at all. I like using a dark unrefined sugar like rapadura (or traditional jaggery if I can find it) or use muscovado or brown sugar that are easier to source. Honey also works well especially paired with orange and rooibos as I share below. I hope you will give this recipe a go, and please make it your own just the way you like it…
My love affair with chai started some years ago, way back during my first cheffing job here in Nelson. Fresh out of chef school, as green as can be, and into the craziness of a commercial kitchen. I loved it, I was young, I learned so much. I was often rostered onto the morning baking and salad shift, and at the time I wasn’t a coffee drinker (ahem, not the case anymore – mum life!) and neither was my co-chef. We often shared the shift with a barista who was a kiwi-born Indian. If we asked him nicely, and there wasn’t a busy morning coffee rush, he would make us traditional chai tea he learned from his mother. The recipe I share below is not his recipe, I don’t even think he used one, he would simply grab a stack of spices, put a pinch of this and a pinch of that into a pot with water and sugar and simmer until fragrant.
But this is the trick I did learn, when he added the milk he would bring the tea to a boil 3 times. He would let it boil up so the tea would just about boil over, remove from the heat until the milk settled, then repeat two more times. In a nutshell this process caramelises the milk and sugar resulting in a belly-warming chai with that distinctive flavour that is difficult to achieve otherwise. A word of caution though, this step can be a messy affair (learned from experience), but if you do have time to stay near the pot I would encourage you to bring to the boil at least once, twice if you can – you will be amazed at the flavour transformation to the chai using this simple traditional technique (unfortunately this is not recommended if using plant-based milk, it will likely separate). Keep warm friends – we are on the final stretch of winter!
Readers & Writers – Nelson Arts Festival
Nelson Friends, I am excited to share that I am part of the Page & Blackmore Readers & Writers line up at the Nelson Arts Festival this October. Join me at the Granary Festival Cafe while I chat with foodie Judy Finn from Neudorf Vineyards about local food, gardening, writing a cookbook, plus share some insights into my journey thus far. I hope to see some of you there:
Friday 13th October 12.30pm $12 early bird ($16 full) tickets on sale now. Find more details HERE.
Orange and rooibos tea are a wonderful marriage. If you have an orange tree or one nearby that you can nab a leaf or two from, add this to the pot along with the spices for a more intense orange flavour. In fact, keep an eye out for an orange tree in your hood and stockpile a few leaves as I have a stellar recipe coming up next month that uses such an ingredient (sorry Southlanders, I will include another option with the recipe). I'm sure your neighbour won't mind you thinning the branches a little to let the light onto the fruit! Throw a handful of leaves into the freezer as you would kaffir lime leaves and await instruction. *A note on tea, I like to buy loose leaf tea from a bulk food or organic store where there is a fast turnover for the freshest flavour. Chai tea is traditionally made with a strong black tea such as Assam tea.
1 large cinnamon quill
8-10 cardamom pods
12 whole cloves
4 cups/ 1 litre boiling water
a thumb of fresh ginger root, grated (the more the spicier)
peeled zest of 1 orange + an orange tree leaf or two (see recipe intro above)
3 tablespoons sugar or honey
4 heaped teaspoons loose-leaf rooibos (red bush tea) or black tea
OR 6 tea bags of either
- Place the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom into a mortar and pestle and crush the spices a little so to release the flavours. Tip the spices into a heavy-based saucepan and toast over a moderate heat until lovely and fragrant. Carefully add boiling water (it will spit and splutter) along with the ginger, orange zest and leaves (crushed in your hand first to release the oils), and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes to extract the flavours from the spices and orange zest/leaves. Remove from the heat and add the loose tea. Steep for 5-6 minutes then strain through a sieve into a jug. Cool and store in a bottle in the fridge, use within 2 weeks.
- To serve: gently heat 1 part chai tea mix with 1 part water and 1 part milk of choice. If using cow or goat milk bring to a boil once or twice for a true chai flavour (see story above) - some plant-based milks can separate when boiled so be careful when heating these (don't boil). Pour into mugs and add a small pinch of cinnamon per cup to prevent a skin forming on the surface. Slurp and enjoy this belly-warming drink.
If you have been following along here for a while you may recall the knitting pattern I was working on this winter, well, I finished it only 3 months later! Pictured below, using this wool – a perfect novice/beginner knit.