Jan 13, 2016

Homemade Chai

One afternoon when I was in college I stopped by our local natural foods store to see if they carried that chai that comes in the waxed cardboard box. The kind that you could just pour into a mug and microwave. It was Lent and in an uncustomary move I decided to give up coffee. I wasn't a coffee snob at that point - I drank the pumpkin and hazelnut flavored stuff - but I depended on that heart thrumming rush to get me through late nights of writing essays about Emily Dickinson.

I came in the front door and saw the owner standing at the register. I remembered that she was married to the football coach, and I loved the small town quality of it: she, a shop owner making whole grain breads and stocking vitamins and tinctures, he, kneeling on the grass with a huddle of Midwestern guys who just wanted to win a game (our football had one of the longest losing streaks of any liberal arts college.) I imagined they must have a sweet life.

She was on the phone but she put the phone to her shoulder when I walked in and asked, "Can I help you?" She was tall with brown hair cascading down her shoulders.

"Do you carry Oregon Chai?" I asked.

She stared at me for a moment and then replied, "No, it's not sustainable to ship liquids across the country."

She then returned to her phone call.

I was an environmental studies major, so this comment hit especially hard after I'd just spent a semester debating with my classmates the exact definition of 'sustainable.' Needless to say I left the store, my face stinging from the slap of her condescension. 

In any case, I've since grown out of my pre-mixed chai and pumpkin-flavored coffee days and strongly recommend pulling your sleeves up and making a batch of homemade masala chai. "Chai" really just means tea - in India these dudes walk up and down the trains yelling "chai chai chai!" which you buy out of little dixie cups and then watch as most people (ahem, not you) throw the cups through the grates of the window onto the tracks below. How sustainable!

Wicked Sustainable Homemade Masala Chai Made from Stuff in Your Cupboard

This is an EASY and cozy recipe to make this weekend when you curl up and watch David Bowie in the Labyrinth (one of my favorite movies ever; RIP Bowie) or read about the visionary Dr King. If you don't have all the spices listed, don't fret. I've listed other possibilities at the end of the recipe. Just experiment & enjoy the flavors!

For 2 servings

2-3 cardamom pods, cracked
2-3 cloves
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cinnamon stick, such as Ceylon cinnamon, broken
1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp ground ginger (or 1 slice of fresh if you have it)
2 tsp loose black tea or 2 teabags
3 tsp maple syrup or honey

Place the whole, unground spices in a heavy bottomed saucepan on medium heat. Heat the spices until they begin to release a scent but not so much that they toast (only about 1 minute). Once you *smell* the spices, add the water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Then add the milk and ginger and bring back to a simmer for another 1-2 minutes - be careful not to let it boil! Next add the black tea and turn off the heat. Stir with a whisk, cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Add sweetener to taste, strain & serve.

Masala means 'spice blend' in India

Other possible additions:
a pinch saffron threads
a thumb's length of lemon peel
a blade of mace
a scrape of nutmeg
coriander seeds
a pinch of cayenne
allspice/pimento berries
Curio's Kandy Spice

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