I am a woman of many, many rituals. Chai has been a ritual in my life for more than two decades. I have been perfecting my morning cup ever since I moved out of my parents home for college at 17. However, the love affair began much before 17. I vividly remember a yearning for chai at an age my mom thought I was too young to be drinking chai, perhaps I was 8?
In quiet, sweet and innocent rebellion, fixated on drinking a warm and comforting, sweet and energizing concoction, I began to brew "chai" in my play kitchen's coffee maker - the only time and type of coffee maker I have ever owned. I would pour lukewarm tap water into the play kitchen appliance along with a black teabag. Finally, my mother, understanding her daughter's determination and stubbornness, gave me some real chai because of her concern about the lukewarm tap water with teabag concoction.
I have always been a fan of my mother's creations in the kitchen and her chai did not disappoint - rarely did the many cups to follow in my life - I grew up in a home where chai is a twice a day ritual. When I went away to college in Boston, it was one of my go to comforts - and it has evolved as I have - through the icy cold winters in the northeast to grey afternoons in London. I continued the tradition when I lived in Southern California though noticed that I changed the spices in it to compliment the bright sunny weather.
My current chai recipe has traveled through space and time to me, honoring the many ancestors of mine who used the chai ritual as a time to reflect and awaken. It is part of my awakening ritual for certain. Chai is near and dear to me as it symbolizes the family, including extended family, getting together, and lounging around over a good cup of chai.
I was in India last year during this time doing shopping for my wedding and my Masi, my mother's sister, Radha, the one who actually NAMED me Shaffali (and yes I mention to her all the time that I have a brand NAMED Shaffali and its all because of her)....Anyway, I digress - Radha Masi showed me a technique in chai making that is only 1 year old in my life which involves the spices being in the mix before the black tea. I would also like to take a moment and acknowledge my Renu Bua, my father's sister, for introducing me to a brand of black tea I love for its strength and aroma of authentic Indian chai, which I mention in the recipe below. This upgrade was introduced 4 years ago when she came to visit me for a large Thanksgiving dinner I had whipped up in my NYC apt. Thus, the recipe continues to evolve - and the key spices I add have always evolved, especially in accordance with the season - thus, for December, I offer you my recipe for chai which I think is a great balance of eastern essence made for a western palette, with a relatively mild spice and aroma - though you will see, with some experimentation, what level and type of spices you enjoy to make your own signature chai.
Ingredients for 1 cup of chai:
- Any combination of these spices - 1 to all of them - sometimes I use ginger only!
- Cinnamon, Cardamom, Star Anise, Ginger, Clove, Nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon strong black tea - Wagh Bakri is my favorite, an Indian brand available at Indian grocery stores as well as online at amazon
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup milk or for vegans - I love a nutmilk brand called notmilknyc.com
Prep spices by grinding them in a mortar and pestle, if possible. Otherwise, cut/breakdown into small pieces. Be aware that cardamom and star anise are stronger in flavor per the same qty vs the others so use sparingly. It will take a few cups of chai for you to figure out your favorite balances of flavor - so you can perfect your own chai masala. Basically, pre-made chai masala is also available but I have never had any success with it as it is far too strong for my delicate palate.
- Bring water with spices to a boil (this is part of my technique I have been using for a year - so if it is throwing you off because you boil the tea first, try this new way - I love the taste)
- Add milk or nutmilk and bring to a boil again (this one will come much quicker than the time it took for the water to boil)
- Add in tea and let sit at a rolling boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat and let sit for another minute.
- Pour your aromatic cup of authentic chai, sweeten if you would like with: sugar or maple syrup
- Sprinkle a touch of cinnamon on top.
- Enjoy this drink as a warm, comforting and energizing ritual.