I LOVELOVELOVE spiced chai. Not the kind that comes pre-sweetened and all you need to do is heat it up or mix it into hot water. I love the kind that is steeped in fresh spices – cardamom, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg. Take those spices, add them to a mix of milk and water and a little honey, bring it slowly to a boil, and then add black tea.
Of course it’s not that simple. The blend is critical. How much of each spice to use is really an experiment until you get it to your particular favorite flavor. It also requires patience. You can’t boil the liquid too fast because you need to give the spices a chance to infuse their flavor into the liquid. I’ve tried short cuts only to be disappointed. This need for patience lends the making and drinking of chai masala a ritual quality. If you have a friend who makes you fresh chai masala, it’s because they care for you.
I’ve tried a bunch of different pre-mixed chai spices, but the one I like the most so far is one I found recently at the Etsy Indie Holiday Emporium at Pier 70 in San Francisco. The vendor is Waverley Kitchens (https://www.etsy.com/shop/waverleykitchens), out of Palo Alto. The gentleman – maybe the dad? – saw me checking out the prepared spice packs for various Indian dishes and asked if I liked chai. Loved it, I said, so he started to tell me about his chai mix. I’m always willing to give chai spice mixes a go, so I got some. I have made several cups now and have worked out my preferred variations to the instructions – an equal blend of milk and water and the addition of a couple of fresh crushed cardamom pods – and find myself very happy with the result. I just had a cup, in fact, and it was tasty.
My ultimate favorite, though, is the blend my friend, Dimple Walrus, makes me. She gets it from some shop in Santa Cruz. It’s a special weekend when I go to her house for a long morning over a pot of chai masala, some tasty foodstuffs, and wonderful conversation. Sometimes we even manage to get some writing in!