In honor of National Hot Tea Month, let’s look at a different take on tea – chai – or more correctly, Masala Chai. This is a guest post by in the most part by Ann McCormick, the Herb’n Cowgirl. She is based in Texas, which is (arguably) part of the Southwest. Anyway, her website is worth a browse.
What is Chai?
The name is a tad confusing, because what we call tea here in the English speaking world is called “chai” in a number of languages, including Hindu. Then there is “masala chai” from India – which translates as “mixed spice tea.” But bring that name back into English-speaking countries and “Masaa Chai” has become shortened to just plain “chai.”
The Herb’n Cowgirl shares this –
“Mixed spice tea is based on Assam black tea, a dark, rich, brew grown in the foothills of the Himalayas. The spices are a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, green cardamom, and black pepper. The cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and ginger I’m sure you recognize but the cardamom might be new to you.
Cardamom comes from a green pod with dark brown to black seeds inside. Both the outer pod and the inner seeds are ground together to make the spice.
Green cardamom (Eletarria cardamomum) is the seed pod of a member of the ginger family. Cardamom is, pound for pound, one of the most expensive spices available. A typical spice bottle full of cardamom at the grocer’s will cost more than double the amount of other spices.
Both the light green pods and the black seeds of cardamom are ground together to make cardamom powder. The flavor is a somewhat earthy version of cinnamon and cloves. It is commonly used in Indian cooking and – oddly enough – Nordic pastries where it provides the often hard-to-define characteristic flavor of these sweets.
Chai in Shops
But back to our cup of chai tea latte. The coffee house version can vary from the original recipe of Assam black tea and spices, to an instant powder mix, topped with steamed milk. It’s not hard to find packets of chai tea mix in supermarkets either.”
Editors Note – But if you are participating in Canuary, and want to make your own out of what you have on hand – it is EASY! Ann says –
“Here’s what you need for the basic mix. The original version calls for the spices to be ground fresh in a mortar and pestle but since most of us don’t have that I’ve converted it to the pre-ground versions we buy at the grocers.
How to Make A Chai Blend
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon 1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom”
Blend 1 teaspoon of the Chai Spice Mix with 1 teaspoon Assam tea or a similar black tea. Put in a tea pot or tea cozie and steep for 3 minutes. It makes a lovely fortifying winter beverage.
Ann reminds us that “This is a rough approximation of the basic spices in chai. Everyone’s taste varies so feel free to experiment with the amounts. One word of warning – go easy on the cloves. This spice has a flavor punch all out of proportion to its volume.
So now you know cardamom is the secret ingredient in chai tea. Next time you are sipping a cup of this delicious brew you can impress your friend by remarking, “Mmmm, doesn’t the cardamom make it taste great?” What they say in reply is your problem – not mine.
Use This Chai Mix for More Than Tea
Chai spice mix can be made in advance and stored for use, just as you might do with pumpkin spice mix. The chai flavor can be added to quick breads, cookies, cheesecake, scones, custards – in fact anyplace you might otherwise use pumpkin pie spice mix.
P.S. Cardamom is, pound for pound, one of the most expensive spices available. A typical spice bottle full of cardamom at the grocer’s will cost more than double the amount of other spices so be prepared for a little “sticker shock” when you buy some.”
Thanks for a great post Ann!
Ann uses this Chai Mix to make killer cookies! Here is her recipe for Chai Snickerdoodle Cookies. I had one. Just one (sob!) Awesome I tell you!
Editors Note 2
This pairs realy well with honey as a sweetner! Avocado blossom honey especially works well with the other flavors in Masala Chai.
Other ideas for using honey
May we suggest our dandy little cookbook? Using Honey in New and Savory Ways offers 36 pages of tips for using honey in your cooking, as well as in all manner of dishes.
Price is what you would pay on Amazon – only when you buy from us you get a signed copy – and you help support some local Southwest folks!
From the review:
“Honey is for more than desserts and this book can help! Using honey in cooking savory dishes helps engage all your taste buds and adds a layer of added flavor to everyday dishes – plus holiday fare.”
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