Delicious and Easy Masala Chai Teas

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Kat loves to shop in international grocery stores. She’ll drive for miles just to have the opportunity to roam the aisles and enjoy the colors and aromas of different cultural cuisines. This week she went to a local Indian grocery store and spent a very long time in the tea aisle, of course! She returned home with dried lentils, spices, and a very unique line of teas.

Kat was intrigued by the colorful  boxes of teas called Chai Moments from Tea India. She makes her own masala chai at home and loves the flavor, but was curious to see how this tea would compare. These are instant powdered teas, and she wasn’t sure what to expect. Kat was pleasantly surprised to see there are no artificial flavors or preservatives, things that you often find in instant teas.

She brought home four different flavors of Chai Moments: Masala Chai, Cardamom, ginger, and milk tea. She invited one of her close friends Sima over for a tasting session. Her friend grew up in India and often talks fondly of having tea with her family. Her mother taught her how to make masala chai and she usually creates it from scratch.

To brew up these teas, you simply add a packet to 6-8oz hot water, and stir. The teas are made up of bold black tea, non-dairy creamer, and spices. The first tea they tried was the masala chai. This tea is spicy, sweet, and creamy. Kat said that the blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger took her back to being on the streets of India and sipping masala chai from the chai wallas. I completely agree! As soon as I smelled the tea I could see those chai stalls with the fast moving vendors furiously brewing and pouring tea. This instant tea is perfect for when you crave that spicy chai but don’t have time or teabags available. Kat said she could see herself drinking this in the morning at the office, when she’s looking for a little extra spring in her step.

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Next up was the ginger tea. This one is warming and spicy. The milk tames the spice a bit, and makes it soothing with a nice lingering zing. Kat said she’s going to reserve this tea for chilly afternoons on the go, when she wants to take a quick break to warm herself inside and out.

It turns out that the cardamom tea is Sima’s favorite. She said this tea reminds her of spending mornings with her mother, learning how to make her family’s version of chai. Theirs is heavy on the cardamom, with lots of milk and sweetener. Cardamom in tea can be quite overpowering but this blend has just the right amount. Sima decided she was going to keep a box of this tea at home, for when she wants a taste of her childhood without the time to assemble the tea from scratch.

Kat also enjoyed the milk tea, which is creamy, sweet and soothing. Kat is keeping this tea for that mid-afternoon slump when she’s not looking for some extra help to wake up, but without too much spice. This tea is sweet but not too much so. It reminds Kat of being in Taiwan, where she found sweet milk tea everywhere she went. The milk, sugar, and tea are all well balanced in this blend. Each flavor can be tasted, and nothing overpowers.

These teas are perfect for travel, outdoor activities, or visiting with family and friends. They are warming, creamy, and oh so comforting! Next time you are in an international grocery store, keep your eyes peeled for new and interesting teas. You never know what you’re going to find!

Tea Traditions Around the World, Pt. 1

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I’ve traveled all over with world with Char and recently Kat and I have taken a few adventures as well. One thing we’ve learned is tea can be found in every corner of the globe. I’ve seen it offered as a sign of hospitality, expertly prepared in an intricate ceremony, served at large gatherings, and of course just consumed at all times of the day. There are so many cultures around the world that enjoy tea. It would take pages and pages to discuss it! Here are a few places where we’ve had memorable cups of tea.

In Morocco, we were greeted with mint tea everywhere we went. Many households offer it to guests in greeting when they visit. It is a sign of hospitality we greatly enjoyed. These teas are a mixture of green tea and mint leaves, often served quite sweet. I loved how it is usually served in little glasses and poured out of a teapot perched high above the glass. It is theatrical and delicious! I remember how lovely those vibrant green mint leaves looked floating in the tea, dancing as they poured into the cup.

To re-create Moroccan mint tea at home, Kat often brews a pot of green tea and will add loads of mint to each cup. For the colder months when mint isn’t available, Kat picked up a box of Wegmans Peppermint Tea to add to her green tea. This tea only contains cooling, refreshing peppermint so it is a perfect substitute to using the leafy green herb. After bringing this tea home from the store, Kat was surprised at just how aromatic it was.  She drinks it alone to relax in the evenings, or uses it for her Moroccan tea fix. After a few sips she imagines she’s sitting amongst the vibrant Arabic art and architecture.

In India, masala chai of course is the drink of choice. Whenever I think of India I see steaming cups of fresh tea infused with ginger, cardamom, cloves and pepper. You can find it on the streets sold by chai wallahs.  I recently discussed masala chai in a previous post. The flavor of masala chai depends on the region you visit. I recently found this wonderful website that tells stories of the chai wallahs in India. Reading through it makes me wish Kat would whisk me back there.

In Russia, black tea is made into a concentrated brew and then diluted with boiling water. Traditionally the water was boiled with a samovar, but these days the gorgeous urns are mostly ornamental. You can find a few tips on how to create the concentrated tea and water mixture here.  Russian tea is often sweetened with a spoonful of jam. The teas are usually smoked black blends, and adding jam gives an amazing combination of smoky and sweet.

In China tea is of course ubiquitous. You’ll find green, oolong, puerh, white, and black teas depending on the region. People often prepare tea with the leaves directly in the water and leave them in when it’s time to drink. They’ll simply use their teeth to act as a strainer. This technique is often called ‘grandpa style’ brewing. Grandpa style is super easy to do, and it only requires tea and a cup or bowl to drink out of. For more details on brewing tea this way, check out Nicole Martin’s helpful YouTube video. Kat’s brother-in-law recently visited China and I overheard him explaining that many people walk around with a plastic tumbler filled with leaves that they drink from all day long. They refill the water as needed.

These are so many more ways to enjoy tea around the world, so stay tuned for another post about tea in other countries! Is there a tea culture that you’d like to learn more about? Do let me know and I’ll be happy to post about it.

Behind The Leaf: Masala Chai

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I know we’ve talked about autumn teas, and there is another tea perfect for this time of year. Do you enjoy Masala Chai? It’s lovely any time of year, but the milky, spicy, sweet flavor is perfect for walks through the crisp autumn air and warming up on a chilly morning. The spices wake up your senses and give you an extra spring in your step.

You’ve probably had (or at least seen) a ‘chai latte’ in cafes and restaurants. Dearies for steep’s sake, chai translates to ‘tea’ so you are actually just saying ‘tea tea’! Masala chai is the spiced tea we are talking about. Although most places refer to it as ‘chai’, you know now the appropriate way to refer to it!

Masala chai is a staple in parts of India where it is made at home and sold on the street. The vendors selling the fragrant tea are called chai wallahs. Char drank many of cups from these vendors on her travels through India, and I had the pleasure of accompanying her. I will never forget those fragrant teas poured quickly with expert hands, or sitting in her suitcase during those bumpy train rides!

Masala chai started off as a medicinal drink of herbs, until the British started increasing tea production in the early 1800s and promoting tea drinking in India. Many families have their own version of masala chai. It almost always contains warming spices such as cardamom and ginger. It can also contain cinnamon, star anise, fennel, peppercorn, nutmeg and cloves.  The spices often vary by region. Milk and sweetener are also added. It is such a delicious drink!

Kat first started drinking masala chai after trying a latte at her local café. She enjoyed the spices but thought the brew was far too sweet. Then, after dining with friends at an authentic Indian restaurant, she had the real thing. Freshly made, masala chai is a delight for the senses. Spicy, sweet, silky, warming. She likes to drink it after her meal, to enjoy all of the flavors without anything getting in the way.

The method of preparation can also vary based on family. Kat likes to boil everything together on the stovetop to let all the flavors infuse and concentrate. Important things to always include are fresh spices, high-quality tea, and a rich tasting milk. A strong, malty Assam tea is a great choice but you can use any black tea you’d like.

Kat’s recipe for masala chai:

3 cups water

3-4 teaspoons black tea (Assam is preferred), or 3 teabags

1-inch piece of fresh ginger cut into pieces

5-8 cardamom pods

4 cloves

A cinnamon stick

3-4 black peppercorns

Milk of choice to taste

Choice of sweetener

Add the water to a small pot. Crack open the cardamom pods and add them along with remaining spices to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the tea and steep, then add the milk. Let the whole thing boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, and enjoy. Add as much or as little sweetener as you like (you can also add the sweetener while you are boiling everything together if you’d like it better incorporated.

For a bit of a twist, adding vanilla or even chocolate to your masala chai will change it into a different yet equally delicious drink. Serving it warm is the more traditional way, but it is also delicious iced.

If you enjoy masala chai, what is your favorite way to drink it? Do you have your own secret recipe?