I have a friend who has love/hate relationships with the Chai drinks she buys in coffeehouses. She loves it when a place gets it exactly right; all the best flavors come out, not too heavy on the sugar, and the milk doesn’t wreck her stomach. But there have been so many times she has seen the dark side of Chai…the pre-fab powder based mixes, the scorched milk, the weak and the sad Chais. I want you to be exotic, comforting, balanced she thinks at the coffeehouse counter… but sadly, her purchase has not ended the way she had hoped. Now that I have ingested 16 ounces of you, I can see that you are going to be twisting my guts in a few short minutes, she sighs.
And we can’t forget the fundamental problem of huge gaps between one retailer to another. You like strong peppery flavors? Too bad! This place specializes in weak brown water that’s also intensly sweet! You want to taste all the flavors of the anise, the cardamom, the nutmeg? Nope! Sorry! Cinnamon is the only flavor that matters here, bub. This one’s going to make sure you taste the hell out of that cinnamon.
I mean, I know they’re all close, and they’re all passable (mostly), but why do we need to play roulette with our drink purchases, hoping that maybe, maybe, this one will come out a winner? There’s no reason, I say, when we can make them at home for ourselves and the people we want to save from this chai purgatory. We can make them exactly the way we deserve to have them made. Peppery? You got it. Strong orange notes with a follow up of ginger? I’m on it. Heavy on the cloves, easy on the sugar? Not a problem at all, compadre. Got a problem with lactose? Hey! Try your fantastic homemade Chai in unsweetened rice milk, almond milk, or soy milk at home!
So with that being said, this recipe is a guideline to be tinkered with and refined as you try it out a few times to pinpoint the parts that make you really happy. It’s a great recipe, for sure, and versions of it can be found on Pinterest, all over the blogosphere, and the gazillion recipe finders around. I started with recipes I found here and here, and then modified a few things as I went along.
4 1/2 cups water
9 bags of black tea ( I know. 9? I couldn’t decide between 8 and 10, so…)
3 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 inches fresh ginger, cut into thin coins
10 whole cloves
10 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg
3 star anise
1 tsp ground pepper (or whole peppercorns)
1 tsp orange zest
1 Tb vanilla extract
1 Tb honey (if desired for more sweetness)
In a medium saucepan, boil the water and sugar. While you are waiting for the water to boil, take all of your teabags and tie the strings together into a knot, cutting off any paper tags. Bring the boiling down to a simmer, and add all of the other ingredients except for the extract and the honey – it’s better if they don’t get too hot.
Let the ingredients simmer on low for 20 minutes, then pass through a fine strainer and into a bowl to cool. If you don’t have a fine strainer, you can wrap all the ingredients (except the teabags and the cinnamon sticks) in a bit of cheesecloth and then just pluck the little package out once the simmering is over.
Once the mix has cooled, it will fit very nicely into a quart mason jar and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week, ready to make you happy that you went out there and found whole cardamom in the bulk spice section of the store.
Mix one part concentrate to one part milk, to half and half, or to my favorite – unsweetened almond milk 🙂 It is really nice served cold with ice, but as I am living in Minnesota in December, piping hot with a little crunchy treat nearby is my way to go. And according to responses on the blog Tasty Yummies, I’m hearing that people are reducing the concentrate down and using it in really cool ways on desserts and in their baking! I fully encourage this in others, I just know I won’t be adding any extra tasks onto myself until these holidays are over. So have fun! Explore! And report back.