I love chai — I love the winter holiday season — so it’s natural to have chais for the holidays! Well, actually, chai is good anytime. It just seems to be especially good this time of year. All that chilly weather and those leaves putting on their color show and then drifting into piles on the ground — they prompt us to get the fireplaces crackling, the snuggly blankets out, and the mugs full of chai for a cozy tea time.
“Chai” is actually a Hindi word for “tea,” but in the U.S. the term is used to mean a spiced tea. There are a wide variety of recipes, ranging from the more authentic Indian chai, preferred by us self-proclaimed “chai snobs,” to those chai latté drinks you can get at your favorite tea/coffee shop, chocolate chais, egg nog chais, and even chais used in holiday recipes.
Chocolate chai is one of my favorite variations from the traditional version. I like to start with a good black tea, such as Scottish Breakfast, a CTC Assam, or Young Pu-erh (some people have even been known to start with a nice smoky Lapsang Souchong). Usually, the ratio of water to milk is 2 to 1, but with this type, I do 1 part water to 4 parts milk. Start by steeping the tea and then adding it to a saucepan on the stove. Stir in sugar or sweetener (about 3/8 cup per cup of water) and cocoa powder (1/4 cup per cup of water). Stir and heat mixture over medium heat to a boil. Add in milk, vanilla (preferably the whole bean kind) and some nutmeg and cinnamon to taste. Heat through but don’t boil.
This next step is crucial: Find an appropriate mug, not just some every day mug, but one befitting the occasion. If you’re not quite ready to break out a mug that says “Happy Holidays” and is decorated with poinsettias, snowmen, ornaments, etc., stick to a plain mug in an appropriate color, such as harvest gold, bright green, or red. This is also an occasion when a big glob of fresh whipped cream will be most fitting and not upset the sensibilities of those among the avid tea drinking set who shudder at the thought. If desired, sprinkle a bit of nutmeg on the whipped cream.
While you can certainly drink chais without milk, the flavor tends to be smoother and more holiday-ish with milk. If you’re worried about the calories, I can assure you that they’re minimal. According to the carton of whole milk in my fridge, 8 oz. of milk has 150 calories, or about 19 calories per ounce. Your cup of chai (the normal kind, not the kind I just described) will normally have only about one ounce, possibly two, so you’re only adding 19-38 calories. Unless you are planning to drink a few dozen cupfuls at a time (in which case, you will be buzzing around so much from the caffeine that you’ll burn off all those calories from the milk), the extra calories won’t hurt a bit. Of course, if you add in a heaped teaspoon or two of table sugar at about 25 calories each, the numbers start to add up. Try using another sweetener instead, if you’re watching your intake.
Spread the joy to your tea drinking friends. Gift baskets are burgeoning with pre-mixed chais, from single serve packs by Chai Amore, Serenity, etc., to bagged versions from Twinings, Stash, Revolution, The Republic of Tea, Harney and Sons, Mighty Leaf, and many more. You will be able to find just about any chai variety your giftee could want. Most of these contain cinnamon, nutmeg, and other standard spices. (Caution: some people are allergic to cinnamon and nutmeg; you might want to check first.)
Make sure to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!