Hindi Chai

Tea is statistically impressive and historically significant, but its real pleasure lies in consuming it. Good tea is like perfume and poetry in a cup. To make a cup of tea, you need a teaspoon. The teaspoon actually takes its name from the fact that it is the correct measure of the amount of tea leaves needed for making one cup of tea. If you use a tea bag, do not dunk it up and down, as this will make the tea bitter.

Tea should steep for 3–5 minutes (generally, the three minutes is for green tea, the five minutes for black). If you want your tea stronger, use more tea leaves; do not steep it longer, as it becomes bitter.

If you can find a good tea shop, it is worth exploring different kinds of tea, but if you are buying exotics, ask for guidance. Some Chinese teas need to be rinsed, but then can be used to make several pots of tea. Some white teas need to be brewed very quickly.

For the recipe below, Darjeeling would be the most appropriate tea, though any good black tea would work.

As noted in the previous post, all the world’s words for tea come from the beverage’s name in two Chinese dialects: t’e and ch’a. Chai is just the Hindi version of ch’a. I first had milky, spiced Indian chai as a college student in California, but my fondest memory is sipping it in India, sitting on a porch overlooking the Bay of Bengal. One real pleasure of having it in India was appreciating the care with which the tradition had been carried on by those who had introduced me to the beverage in the U.S. I now know that this delightful drink reflects an ongoing tradition. It’s warming and delicious. Enjoy.

Hindi Chai
Indian Spiced Tea

2 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Generous dash or two ground cloves
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped (optional)
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1-1/2 Tbs. sugar
2 heaping tsp. black tea or 2 tea bags

Lightly crush the cardamom pods in a mortar, to release their fragrance. Alternately, you can crush them with a rolling pin—but do it on a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap, so it’s easy to collect. Do not completely powder the cardamom, however, as this can discolor the tea.

In a saucepan, combine the spices, milk, and water. Bring to a boil over high heat (watch the pot carefully —boiling milk boils over more quickly than just about anything else you can cook), then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and tea and continue to simmer for about 1 minute longer, or until the tea has clearly released its color into the liquid.

Strain into cups and serve at once. Alternatively, you can let the strained tea cool to room temperature, then pour it over ice.

Serves 2. Enjoy.

Note: You can use ground cardamom, but the green cardamom pods (available at any Indian grocer and many multi-ethnic stores, as well as online from good spice merchants, such as those at the Spice House) are so much more fragrant and flavorful that, once you’ve tried them, you probably won’t be able to go back to anything else. The cardamom is, in fact, the dominant flavor in most chais—so it’s the most important ingredient to get right. If you have whole cloves, rather than ground, you can drop one or two in the mortar with the cardamom pods, and you could use 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, if you don’t have fresh. Fresh is better, but again, the cardamom dominates, so one can take shortcuts with the ginger.

Copyright ©2010 Cynthia Clampitt

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1 Comment

Filed under culinary history, Culture, Food, Language, Recipes, Travel

One response to “Hindi Chai

  1. I’d like to personally invite you to join the CookEatShare Author network. CookEatShare has had over 2.5 million unique visitors in 2009, and I think they will be interested in your content.

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