Y’all I’m not gonna lie, I would pick chai over a coffee any day. Not that I drink that much coffee in the first place, but still. For me, chai has always had a special place in my heart. It’s always been much more than just a spicy drink option at the coffee shop, but a way of inviting people in to your home and spending time with those you care about. Whenever my parents friends would come over to the house, even just to drop something off for less than two minutes, one of the first questions was always, “Would you like a cup of chai?”. Obviously that then turned into a two hour conversation and catch up in the living room but that’s beside the point.
Bringing out a tray of chai with some biscuits was a way of forging connections and building relationships, finding out what was going on in someone’s life and taking a break from the fast-paced lives everyone is dealing with.
Looking back now, I kind of get all wispy and nostalgic about those moments. So since I don’t live at home anymore where a cup of chai was just one ask away, I had to start finding my own formula (or accept dropping $5 at the coffee shop downstairs every time the craving strikes).
On my journey to finding what the best blend of chai was that I could make on my own, I went on a bit of a scavenger hunt. To say I tried every chai I could find in my city would be a bit of an exaggeration, but I did my fair share of sampling – everything from the trying the chai at all the local coffee shops, drinking several bottled chai’s at the grocery stores, and testing several different chai concentrates and starters that are on the market. So what did my taste-tests reveal?
1. A lot of chai out there is just too sweet.
2. They’re missing the depth of flavor that comes from the co-mingling of spices, aka they are either too ginger or cinnamon forward in taste.
3. They don’t wrap up the feeling of getting a hug in a cup from your aunty.
I don’t know that there will ever be a version of chai that is as great as when your mom or grandmother makes it, (I swear I have followed my mom’s recipe EXACTLY before, and it still doesn’t taste as good as when she makes it) but what I’ve put together here is about as classic as it can get while also giving everyone room to experiment and emphasize the flavors they like.
That’s the thing about chai. It’s not really a true recipe. It’s more like a set of guidelines and suggestions to follow to create a delicious cup of goodness.
Every family I know has their own special version and secret (or not so secret) spice blend that makes their chai their own. But for the most part, all of these recipes follow a certain formula:
- Black tea
- Assorted spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves)
While I normally make drinks without sweeteners, you absolutely need a little bit of sweetness in chai for it to taste right. Most of the spices that are used in a chai blend lean towards bitter and earthy flavors when on their own. So if you don’t add sugar and have lots of spices that are naturally bitter, you’re going to end up with a drink that’s got a little bit of kick to it, but it won’t taste quite right or quite like a real chai. I’m not saying you need to add a lot of sugar (my batch blend of 6 cups of liquid has only 2-3 tablespoons of honey), but having that smidge of sweetness helps to temper the spices and really smooth out the flavor.
Other notes I’ve discovered from testing gallons on gallons of chai?
-Fresh-crushed spices are leaps and bounds ahead of powdered or pre-packaged blends.
-Toasting those fresh spices make a world of difference in releasing those flavored and aromatic spice oils.
-Chopping or grating the ginger helps infuse that spicy flavor more than just slicing rounds of the root. If you prefer a subtle ginger flavor, keep the rounds.
-You can have so much fun by trying out different spice combinations!
I like making a batch of chai to store in the fridge, re-heating or serving over ice when I like throughout the week. Obviously chai tastes best when made fresh, but I find it easier to make a large serving at one time. My personal batch leans to the spicy side, so if you don’t like too much spice, cut the pepper and ginger amounts! If you prefer extra flavor, add extra amounts to all the spices! I do hope you’ll give this a try and let me know what spice combos you like! Chai is one of these amazing recipes that everyone can put there own signature spin on, and I would love to know yours!
- 3 - 4 whole peppercorns (depending on your heat preference!)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 8 cloves
- 12 green cardamom pods
- 3 inches of ginger, chopped/grated or cut into thin rounds
- 3 cups of water
- 3 cups almond milk *
- 2 1/2 - 3 tbsp honey (depending on your sweetness preference!)
- 3 tbsp good dried black tea leaves (I prefer loose leaf darjeeling or assam tea leaves)
*This will give you a basic chai recipe, if you prefer more flavor, add extra spices and experiment with what you like!
*Note if using regular milk, add ginger when you add the tea leaves to avoid potential curdling
- Add all of the whole spices to a mortar and pestle and crush into large pieces.
- Bring a stove top pot up to a low/medium heat. add the crushed spices and toast for about 2 minutes, then add the ginger and continue toasting for another minute until the spices start becoming very aromatic.
- Add water and milk to the pot. stir and bring up to a light simmer - this should take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat as soon as the liquid starts to simmer.
- Add the honey and stir to combine. Then add the black tea and stir, let steep for about 5-10 minutes depending on how strong you like your chai.
- Pour the chai through a strainer to catch all of the whole spices.
- Serve warm or let cool and store in fridge to serve over ice.