Jan 13

Soothing Masala Chai


Masala Chai



Tea; as restorative and as uplifting to ones spirit as any ‘ol bowl of chicken noodle soup on a cold, rainy day. However, on a reeeeallly dreary day (like today) I like to take it up a notch. One word comes to mind : Chai. The heady aromas of fresh ginger, cardamom and cinnamon permeate thru the tea and all over the house, immediately bringing a sense of warmth from within.



Ever since my recent visit to the Albert Cuyp market to procure myself an array of spices, I have been going a bit spice-crazy. As with my previous obsession with all things no-bake cheesecake, I find myself strangely heading in the same direction with spices. That’s it … I am convinced that I have some undiagnosed obsessive disorder. More spice recipes are to follow this month ~ so watch this space.






Some months ago I made these Spiced Baby Bundt Cakes, which were an absolute knock-out coupled with a warm butterscotch glaze and cinnamon sugar dust. Sent them to the office and they were gobbled up very quickly … or so I’m told. This week the weather doesn’t seem any kinder; it has been in the single digits for days now with very little sun to show for it. Doopey and I got wet on our morning walk and we staggered home all squishy and miserable. It was then time for a cuppa.



Growning up I was best friends with a Punjabi girl. We’ve known each other since we were 9, and we did everything together. There wasn’t a day that went by when we were not in contact with each other be it at school or via telephone. Our mothers were very exasperated with the latter coz even though we saw each other six days a week (Sunday being the sole day that we didn’t “hang”), we would still burn up the phone line every chance we got. My mother in particular would always say, “What else is there to talk about that you haven’t already discussed at school?!” Oh, if she only knew.



Anyway, somedays I would spend the afternoon at her house having extra tuition outside of school hours by a private tutor. I was pretty crap at maths so said tutor was hired to work miracles with me (and her) I suppose. Her Mom, however, made the best tea EVER! Chai at their house was an everyday affair; it was a given. And tea never smelt so good. Ahhh … I can still smell it now like it was yesterday. It was good stuff and it was what I looked forward to the most everytime I set foot in her house.







Many years later on my trip to India I got to relish even more chai; all day, , everyday … as much as I wanted. It was crazy! Tea in India is probably drunk 4 – 5 times a day, possibly more. Chai wallahs (roadside tea sellers) were on every street corner serving up this aromatic beverage in very interesting cups made out of clay called kulhar. I thought this bio-degradeable receptacle was the bees-knees! These cups were made rather crudely into a cone shape, and it is a one time use thing. Before pouring you a glass he would sanitise it with hot steam from a kettle, then he’d fill it with tea. After you have finished you crush the cup so it cannot be reused and throw it on the ground where it will dissolve into mud / clay on a rainy day. I was so fascinated by it that I kept one as a souvenir, but alas! It was so fragile that it did not survive its trip home.



If you wanna know what these clay cups look like in other regions of India and read more about them, click the picture below.



Chai served in clay cups, India.
Picture source : http://chaipilgrimage.com



That trip to India was a blast! My only regret is that I have no photos of my own to share here today coz the person I went with never ended up giving me the digital copies. Everytime I think about it I feel like kicking myself (and him, for that matter). I feel like if I have no photos then that trip kinda never really happened. I would like to return to India one day and see more of it, and not just seven days worth.



Back home in Malaysia if you want some good ‘ol spiced tea you’ll need to tell the ‘mamak’ (stall owner) guy that you want teh halia, which means ginger tea. And it is what I go for whenever I am not feeling so good in the tummy. It is admittedly less spicey than its Indian cousin, the masala chai, but what it lacks in spice it sure makes up for in creamy milk and lots of ginger; although some preparations still contain hints of cardamom. Cures the tummy ailments right up.



For me, a cup of spiced chai is always taken with milk like the way my friend’s Mom used to do it and like the chai wallahs in India did it. I am very well aware of the countless supermarket products out there today that boast of the authenticity of their personal blends. Before I left Melbourne, Chai Lattes were running riot all over the country, with their foamy milk preparations a staple in any up-scale café. However, at AUD 4.60 a pop I’d much rather make my own at home, thank you very much.



I have tried the powdered sachet stuff as well but not only are they expensive but they never really taste like the real thing. They always lacked full-bodied flavour, and were always far too sweet for my liking. Which is why making your own brew is the way to go; you won’t regret it. Here is what you’ll need …



Disclaimer : Before you begin, it is best to note that one cup will never be enough … so make a large pot of this stuff.







Masala Chai  (serves 4) … (rather, 4 cups for just one, really)

  •  2.5 cups water
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp loose black tea leaves
  • 5 cardamom pods, crushed
  • pinch of ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground clove
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • enough sugar to taste



Now, the above is a general recipe only, to be used as a guide, simply because tea drinking is a matter of personal taste, much like selecting what goes on your pizza. Some like it sweeter than others and some might like is spicier. So play with the quantities until you find one that suits. Sometimes I like to add in a splash of vanilla too, just to mix it up a little.






The method is pretty simple. The water and the milk is poured into a pot to simmer together, along with all the spices. Personally I also tend to add the sugar in at this stage, but if you are serving more than one person it is probably best to serve the sugar at the table and let them decide.



If you don’t have fresh root ginger at hand then you can use ground ginger from a bottle, just be sure its not the candied variety used for cakes.






Now once the mixture comes up to a boil, add in the loose tea leaves, cover the pot with a lid (I use a saucer) and kill the heat. Allow the mixture to steep for several minutes before straining into teacups; I strongly suggest using the BIGGEST teacup for yourself. Actually, scrap the teacup and bring out the mugs! Now crawl into your favourite armchair with a throw rug; close your eyes, inhale deeply and let the stresses of the day leave you.



~ Enjoy ~





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