Yesterday something wonderful happened. The morning after I posted my love letter to fall, Mother Nature was feeling generous, and we suddenly went from 80s day and night to highs in the low 70s and nights and mornings in the 50s! It is glorious. And I am so ready for my first hot cup of masala chai. (I've been drinking it all year, naturally, but chilled!)
|how cool are star anise? nature makes the best stuff!|
I have spent many years in pursuit of a great loose-leaf masala chai, always finding them wanting in some area. Premade chai blends usually have a strong cinnamon kick, which is definitely nice, but lack a good balance of flavors. There are a lot of spices in a good masala chai and I want to taste them all! Occasionally I'd hit on one that was really gingery or really clovey, but they all seemed very one-note.
I've been buying insane quantities of loose tea for 10 years now, and I still haven't been able to uncover the distributors' secrets, though not for lack of trying. I'm pretty sure there's some kind of infusion process that gets that strong one-note flavor to come out with a regular steeping. When it comes to using the bare ingredients, it takes a little more time and love to coax the flavors out, but the result will make your house smell like Christmas and your tastebuds do a happy dance. I gave out jars of this blend for the holidays last year and have had friends clamoring for refills ever since. Believe me, you want to try this.
No matter how well-stocked your kitchen, this recipe will begin with a shopping list. And at that, probably an online shopping list. If you have a good Indian grocery in your area you might be able to pick up bags of many of these whole spices at a steal, but for items like pink peppercorns you will probably have to go to a gourmet store, and overpay for a small quantity.
Basically, here's where you should go:
Now, full disclosure: I'm a Mountain Rose affiliate and clicking this banner or the one in the right column and then buying something supports Hippy Elf Chick. I know I don't begrudge bloggers and starving artists making a buck or two, but when I see ads all up in my content it makes me go >:[ . But I am legitimately the biggest rabid fangirl of this company.
I LOVE Mountain Rose Herbs. They have everything a hippy in the kitchen could want, and it's all organic, mostly fair-trade, and if you buy in bulk, usually a better price than you can get anywhere else. And if you want to love them more, just read this page. They are awesome in every way. Oh, and their tea! You guys, THEIR TEA! It is so good! Their English Breakfast and Assam and Earl Grey cannot be beaten in quality or price by anything I have ever tried and believe me, I have tried a LOT. Drink them. You will be happy.
Actually, that brings us to item #1 on our shopping list.
1. A good loose leaf black tea. I use Mountain Rose's Assam for this, you can use your personal favorite plain black tea.
2. Cinnamon chips. (I mean cinnamon sticks broken up, not the kind you put in cookies!) I've used both cassia and true cinnamon for this. Cassia is more fragrant, true cinnamon is more sweet. True cinnamon would be traditional but they both work well. Sometimes when I'm using one I'll throw a stick of the other in the pot for good measure, but to give you a sense of perspective, I keep the overflow from my spice cabinet and spice racks in a giant steel bucket that's supposed to be for chilling drinks at parties, and that bucket is also overflowing. I got cinnamon sticks to spare.
3. Dried ginger root pieces
4. Whole cloves
5. Whole green cardamom pods
6. Whole pink peppercorns
7. Whole star anise pods
|slice vanilla lengthwise first to let out all the beany goodness|
9. Vanilla bean. For me this is not optional, cause I mean, why wouldn't you! But this is one ingredient where I will steer you away from MRH, because vanilla bean is prohibitively expensive most everywhere, and it's such a wonderful thing, no one should be missing out on it in their culinary lives. Enter JR Mushrooms & Specialties. I don't know how they do it, but they sell a great vanilla bean at a feasible price! You can chop these up ahead of time with your dry spice mix. Vanilla bean flavor will spread into whatever you keep it in!
You can always switch it up from a black tea - rooibos is a great caffeine-free herbal option, high in antioxidants and low in price. And if you're feeling spendy, matcha chai is delicious. I have mixed feelings about other varieties of green and white teas with milk, but you can always experiment!
You will also need:
Milk (I use 1% or higher fat content for creaminess)
Honey (or sugar, or agave, or whatever.) Don't try to do this unsweetened. Milky and sugary is the traditional preparation for masala chai for a reason. With milk and sugar you have a warm, creamy happy party in your mouth. Without, you have a lot of very bitter spices burning your throat. You've been warned!
A pot and pitcher - I use a 2.4 liter pot and it makes me enough for a 2 L pitcher.
A tea strainer
Optional - large tea sachet or cheesecloth bag and a big teapot
OK, I know. A lot of info. Let's assume the shopping is done and we're ready to make some tea!
|put cinnamon and ginger chips down first, the other ingredients are bulkier|
Oh and I want to stress this - DON'T MIX IN THE TEA! Save your tea for last, or you will boil the heck out of it and it will be bitter and gross.
Shown here: the Indian brewing method, everything loose, partying all over the pot. It's not the neatest solution. One of my best friends boils them in a big tea sachet, and you could also use a reusable drawstring cheesecloth bag.
So you've got all your goodies in the pot. Fill it up with water, cover and set on high heat until it comes to a boil. Remove the lid and continue to boil until an inch or two of water has boiled off. By now your house smells awesome. The longer you boil, the spicier it gets.
Turn the heat down to low, and add milk til the pot is full again. If your spices are free floating, you'll probably have to scrape some off the sides and bottom of the pot. Heat for a few minutes until it's steaming, stirring occasionally, and make sure you keep an eye on it, especially if you're using an electric stovetop! The milk will boil over in the blink of an eye.
Now you're ready for the tea. First, turn off the heat. I get one of those big Asian soup spoons and add 2 or 3 scoops. Witch's brew! Add your tea straight to the pot, stir so it's not all floating on top, and cover for 3-4 minutes.