India is a Chai (tea) drinking nation and the second largest tea producer in the world. The popular ‘Chai stall’ is part of the urban and rural landscape of India (although Southern India is a largely coffee drinking section of the country.) It’s common to see people from all walks of life stand by the road side in the sweltering heat of an Indian summer or brave the chilling bite of North Indian winters; sipping joyously from a glass of Chai.
For this Chai recipe, I requested my mum and sisters (thanks, ladies!) to interview the quintessential Chaiwalla (a road side tea vendor) on the streets of Mumbai to understand them how they put this popular street beverage together. Getting a Chaiwalla to spill his family secrets is no easy task but if anyone can do it, it’s my mum. Here are some good-to-read facts from the Chaiwalla (tea vendor) interview:
- Chaiwallas make their tea in a brass vessel.
- It’s best to boil the milk and water before you add loose tea and ground additives to it.
- The tea liquid needs to reach boiling point after each set of additives and it’s boiled at least twice in one tea making process.
- Chaiwallas prefer to use whole crushed spices instead of the popular ‘tea masala’ found in most Indian homes.
- The tea is strained using a cheesecloth or muslin cloth, not a regular tea strainer.
- At Chai stalls, tea is generally served in a tea glass, not teacup.
- A Chaiwalla knows the tea is done when the right color has been achieved. I feel this is true for all of us tea-drinkers across the world…we know our tea is done when ‘the color is just right’.
In recent times, Chai tea has exploded on the global beverage scene. One of the hottest fusions of the beverage comes from its merger with the French latte concept as a ‘Chai latte’, which is a milkier (that’s the Latte part) and sweetened adaptation of the Indian Chai. Another popular variant is sold in cartons with the water and sugar pre-added to the brew, where you just add milk and heat it up. While you rarely find these versions of Chai in an Indian household, I’m thrilled that this beautiful beverage is finding its rightful place on the global scene.
This recipe for Ginger Spiced Chai is a more globally accessible (read: easy to make) version of my favorite beverage, ‘Chai’.
3 cups water
1 cup milk
7-8 whole cardamom or ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 inch grated ginger (best if fresh, use a lemon zester or chop it up)
4 teaspoons loose tea leaves or 3 bags of black tea
Sugar to your taste
In a deep saucepan on medium flame, heat the water, milk and whole cardamom (open the cardamom pods and put the seeds and shells in). Wait for the liquid to reach boiling point, add ginger and ground cinnamon (if you are using ground cardamom, add it at this point), loose tea/tea bags and sugar. Let the tea come to a boil and then simmer for 4-5 minutes till the flavors have blended and you see a rich brown color to the tea. Strain into a cup and serve hot with a slice of cake or your favorite crackers.
Enjoy the delicious brew…this is where you take a deep yoga breath and long sip from your cup of Chai.