“Chai” is an Indian word (based on the Chinese word “cha”) that means “tea.” In India, chai starts with a black tea (Assam) and is served with spices, lots of milk, and a generous portion of sugar. The secret to a good chai is in which spices and how much. This varies widely from one chai version to another.
Hubby and I love chai (that is, spiced tea with milk and sweetener). We’ve tried quite a variety over the years. Some have lots of cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices that those of us here in the West associate with the Winter Holidays. Others have spices more associated with those used in Indian cuisine: coriander, cumin, ginger, etc. A lot of times, the amount of these spices (either version) are overly loud (sort of like a lot of popular music these days).
Along with chai, hubby and I also love Indian foods and either fix them at home (usually chicken or beef curry) or dine out at one of the Indian restaurants in the area. (Thank goodness there is a sizable population of people from India living here.) The other day, we visited our favorite Indian restaurant in town, which serves one of the best Indian-style chais we have ever tasted. Hubby and I imbibed greedily in between mouthfuls of the delicious foods off the lunch buffet.
Dishes that are exotic-sounding, such as goat curry and saag paneer, lend their delicious flavor to this chai, which is so refined in its use of spices, so subtle with the milk lending a smooth texture and the sugar coming through in a most unprepossessing manner, that it blends with, instead of fighting, the flavors of the foods. We had to ask the host (the restaurant is a family affair, and our host was either the son or brother of the owner) the secret of this wonderful mixture.
Of course, they start with the strong, rich, malty flavor of Assam black tea. They add in a small amount of “masala” (it just means a mix of spices — this one happens to be made for tea while others are for different Indian dishes) and steep it dark. They add in milk and let it sit just below boiling for awhile so the spices can really infuse into the tea. The tea is poured into sturdy, white, restaurant-style china cups and sugar is added.
We were so impressed with this tea that on the way home from the restaurant we stopped off at an Indian grocery. It didn’t have big wide aisles, food demonstrators coaxing us to try this or that, music playing that was designed to put us in the mood to buy more, or any of the other trappings in today’s large grocery chainstores. It did have the most wonderful aroma that embraced you the moment you opened the front door and entered. It had just about every type of rice, lentil, spice, and other foods that make Indian dishes taste so splendid. And it had the most personable, hard-working, polite, and helpful proprietor we have had the pleasure of meeting. We told him what we were seeking, and he knew right away what product fit this need.
Now it’s up to us. Scurrying home with our purchases, we determined to try to duplicate that wonderful taste. It took a bit of experimenting, but we came close. Maybe we need to make up a batch of curry to go with the chai. That might be the missing ingredient. At any rate, it’s so much fun to try new things with tea that we’ll keep trying until we get it right.
Hope you can have your own tea experiment, whether it’s chai or trying various green teas or something else tea related. Enjoy!
Like a good cup of chai, A.C.’s blog is prepared using only the finest ingredients available and according to an age-old process the details of which only she knows. Try some today!