As a drinker of purebred coffees and teas, I was skeptical about chai and its maelstrom of spices, its blast of sugar. I lumped chai drinkers in with owners of tiny, transportable dogs and wearers of miniskirts with UGGs (full disclosure: I almost bought a pair last year. Almost.)
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Then, a few years ago, I was writing about Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, who had just published Mangoes & Curry Leaves. And there in their book was a recipe for Cardamom Chai. I was surprised by the ingredients, which were nothing more than milk, Assam tea, freshly crushed cardamom and sugar. Their chai recipe is one they modeled on Indian chai shops, and is made by boiling the tea for a minute or so before whisking in a cardamom-infused milk and a whisper of sugar. I gave it a try and it soon became not only a personal addiction but a favorite household pick-me-up when our kids were toddlers and the afternoons were long. When I’d call my friend Elyse to set up a playdate, she’d ask, “Are you making the chai?”
Later, another friend introduced me to chai from Chaiwalla in Salisbury, Connecticut. Similar to the Duguid/Alford version, it’s a black tea with the cardamom already mixed in. You have to call to order (860-435-9758; if you don't hear back right away, Mary O'Brien, the owner, may be traveling. She'll get back to you eventually!). The first time I called, Mary took my order, then said, “I’ll send it out today. When you receive it, send me a check.”
“Wow, I like your old-school system of trust,” I said. “Do people ever fail to pay you?” Mary's response was so simple: “Well, if they don’t pay, that’s their problem, isn’t it?” Yes, it is.
If you're a chai drinker or maker, please share your source or recipe – would love to expand my chai horizons. Before you know it, I may be buying a miniature dog.
And here are a couple of brands of chai tea bags that I like -- they're much more in the warm and spicy realm of chai, but I like that flavor, too:
2 heaping tablespoons black tea leaves, preferably strong-tasting Assam tea
2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
1. Heat the water to a boil. In a separate pan, heat the milk to a boil, stir in the cardamom, cover, and set aside.
2. Place the tea leaves in a heavy pot. Pour in a little of the hot water, then pour it off. Add the remaining hot water. Place over medium heat, bring to a boil, and boil for about 30 seconds, then pour the tea through a strainer into a pot.
3. Add the hot milk by pouring it through a cloth-lined strainer into the tea. Add the sugar and stir. If you wish to froth the tea, pour the mixture into another pot, then pour it back, continuing until it's frothy.
4. Place the pot back over the heat and bring the tea almost to the boil, then pour it into cups.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).