After you taste the ethereal spiciness of homemade chai tea, you will be hard-pressed to purchase it in a store ever again. It only takes a few more minutes to make than “regular” tea, and it is worth every extra second. The wonderful thing about chai is that it is a mixture of spices you can custom tailor to your own tastes; use the quantities specified below as a guideline, and adjust them to suit your palate.
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon pink peppercorns
¼ teaspoon white peppercorns
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns (see Chef’s Note)
6 cardamom pods
2 cups milk
3 teaspoons high-quality loose black tea (or 3 tea bags)
2-3 tablespoons honey, to taste
Place cinnamon stick and spices in zip-top bag or plastic wrap and crush with kitchen mallet or cast-iron pan. Add spice mixture to small pan along with milk, tea, and honey. Heat on a very low flame until steam begins to rise from the surface of the milk, stirring occasionally. Allow to steam lightly for 10-15 minutes until heavy streams of steam are rising from the surface. (If your tea bags break that is OK.)
[Chef’s Note: It is important to note that ¼ teaspoon of black peppercorns will give this mixture a significant kick. If you want to tame the peppery taste, reduce the amount to 1/8 teaspoon.
You do not want to boil the milk in this recipe. The creation of flavor relies on a slow, gentle infusion whose fragrance will make you swoon during the cooking process. We promise. If you do see small bubbles forming around the edge of the pan, the milk is ready to boil, so if you have not yet cooked the mixture for a full 15 minutes, simply turn off the heat and let it sit for the additional time, then continue with the instructions below.]
Strain mixture through a colander lined with a paper towel. Press on the spices and tea with a spoon to extract all the fragrant liquids.
Pour tea into cups and serve immediately, or chill and serve cold.
[Chef’s Note: Though tea bags might be the easiest route to take in this recipe, we really do recommend purchasing a high-quality loose black tea such as Ceylon or Assam. Teabags contain stale, dusty leaves that have been sitting on shelves since the time of Methuselah himself, and their bland flavor can detract from such a lovely creation. The bags fall apart in this recipe anyway, and you have to strain everything, so why not give yourself the indulgence of some fragrant, recently-dried black leaves?
If you prefer decaffeinated tea leaves, they can also be used, but we recommend increasing the amount of tea by 1 teaspoon to make up for the loss in flavor.]
Recipe by Jennifer Iannolo