Friday, 24 September 2010

Garam Chai!

One of my favourite memories of travelling around India was the chai wallahs – the men who would come around selling paper cups of hot milky sweet spiced tea. Sometimes there would sell a coffee version, and sometimes one or the other would be without spices or even sugar, but every morning I woke up on the train I awoke to the call of the chai wallah yelling “chai! Garam chai! Garam chai!”

Trains definitely weren't the only place I could get chai, however, and they weren't the best either. When I visited the home of a friend or acquaintance, when I went to the hairdresser or was waiting in a shop, a cup of chai would often be offered. It seemed that each and every time was different, each person seemed to have their own ingredients and amounts. One friend’s chai was thick and sweet – made with extra sugar and more milk that water, another friend’s was more strongly tea flavoured – she boiled the teabag for longer and put the spices in near the end, my hairdresser’s was light and aromatic – she used lemongrass and no cardamon… Most of my Indian friends used the same type of tea – a loose semi-powdered strong black tea, but since leaving India I've seen chai made from decaf black tea, herbal teas, green teas, red roiboos teas, and, then there was La Fuji Mama:s barley tea chai with mugi-cha! When you think about all the different methods, spices, teas, and the variations thereof… well the variations of chai are endless!

Part of my preparations for the big Girl Scout event next month was to make a “chai recipe sheet” for us to include with the logo-ed mugs we are selling. I decided that just one recipe wasn't going to cut it, so ended up making a multiple-page little booklet with information about the spices, various chai spice mixtures, and then some info about Indian desserts as well. But to be able to write about various flavours of chai I had to try them myself first, and try out the basic recipe too. So I hosted a planning meeting at my place where we also made 8 (yes, EIGHT) batches of chai. Each batch was slightly different from the other and, for the most part I was the only one who knew what was in each. We numbered paper cups and each got 1/4 of a cup of each batch, which we tasted one by one, sort of like a wine tasting – discussing the spice mixture and flavour. In the end we came up with five mixtures that we liked, and I used those for the recipe book.

Hearing all about the chai-tasting, U demanded that I make him chai sometime, so I went out and bought all the spices for my own kitchen. I was worried when I did that I might end up making chai once and then having all the spices cluttering up my cupboard and gathering dust. I needn't have worried, however, as I've found myself making chai a number of times a week now. Sure it takes more effort than just brewing a cup of regular tea, but it is ever so worth the extra effort. Ever so worth it!

And while I would love to have everybody who reads my blog come out to the event and buy their own tea goods to get my chai recipes, I'm guessing it'd be just a liiiitle too far for some of you! So, here goes...

1 cup water
enough tea for one cup (bag or loose)
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tbsp sugar (more or less to taste)

(I use skim milk instead of the 3.7% that is more common in Japan, so I switch my water and milk amounts)

1)Heat water in pan over low heat. When it starts to boil add tea and continue to simmer for 1 minute.
2)Add spices. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes.
3)Add sugar and milk. Stir occasionally and heat for 3-5 minutes (should be light brown in colour).
4)Strain and pour into mug.

Spice suggestions:
-basic chai: cinnamon (stick) 6 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves
-fragrant chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1 tbsp lemongrass
-sweet chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
-warming chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 4 cloves, 1/2 tbsp ginger powder
-spicy chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1/4 tsp black pepper


  1. Okay Sarah, you've got it all wrong. First of all, you need water-buffalo milk. 2nd, you don't need water. 3rd you throw in the tea when you put in the milk. 4th when measuring sugar, take the amount of milk you used, divide it by two and add that amount of sugar to your tea adding it just before adding your spices- make sure sugar is dissolved before adding spices. 5th don't forget the ginger! :P

  2. Okay, I totally agree with you about the water buffalo milk, but the funny thing is that it can be a bit tricky to get here... imagine that!

  3. Wow - I can't believe this! Thanks so much for this recipe! We just got back from Bavaria, and tried a neighbourhood Indian restaurant for lunch. Because it was cold, I ordered the chai, and it was quite yummy. I thought to myself, it'd be nice to know how to make this at home. And now as I check on your blog, the answer is delivered. I think I even know where to get the spices! Vielen Dank! love and hugs, Cath

    PS I love ginger tea too (though I think that's Korean). Just fresh ginger and honey simmered in hot water. Yum yum.

  4. Glad to be of service Cath! But a warning - making your own chai can be addictive and have serious side effects, on the weekend we went to the big annual Indian festival and U complained that the chai for sale wasn't nearly as good as mine! ;)