Indian tea, as I mentioned before (Chai), is called Chai, if you add spices to it (making it what we commonly call Chai) it becomes Chai Masala (literally spiced tea). Here I use this term to differentiate it from the water-based Chai for which I gave you the recipe linked above. In today’s tea recipe, I am combining Afghani Chai with Chai Masala, as the process is the same, the only difference is in the amount of spices.
Afghani tea, as I explained here, is very simple, using only a maximum of five ingredients (water, tea leaves, cardamom, sugar, milk), whereas Indian Chai can be like a veritable soup of spices! You may add cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, pepper corns, ginger, fennel seeds, star anise, rose petals, mint, black or roobois tea, sugar, water and milk. In the winter people prefer to add pepper corn, clove and cinnamon, with milk, whereas in the summer you might prefer to opt for lighter ingredients like rose petals, mint, and fennel seeds, and maybe stick to water rather than adding milk. The basic recipe, though, normally includes cardamom, ginger and star anise, which you can combine in the quantities you prefer.
Everyone mixes their chai to their own liking, which is why it’s usually a good idea to make it fresh each time. However, once you’ve established the spice mix that suits your mood, you could use dry ingredients and grind them together to add to your black or roobois tea, and label them (flu chai, refreshing chai, strong chai, or whatever name you want to affix to your particular blend).
This is how you prepare Chai Masala, or Afghani Chai:
Bring a cup of water and 2-3 tsp of loose black tea (or your favorite bagged tea) to a boil, let simmer for about five minutes, once the tea is nice and dark, add a cup of milk and cardamom pods (always crack them open to enable the flavor to ooze out), bring to a near boil once more. Some people prefer a larger milk to water ratio, I concur (1 – 3/2), it makes the tea creamier and richer. Also, because the milk is white and viscous, the tea needs to steep much longer, as do the spices. Even with Afghani tea (where light and fresh are the norm) you’ll have to boil the tea twice to get the taste to seep into the milk, and give you the rich caffelatte tinge to it.
Here, if you’re making Afghani tea it’s ready to serve (remember hot and not too strong is the ideal), you may serve sugar separately, or include it before serving (unlike water based tea, milk chai is usually served sweetened). If you’re making Indian Chai Masala, then this is the time to add your other spices (star anise, ginger, cinnamon, etc.). Let it steep for about 5 minutes, and then serve, sweetened, unless otherwise requested.
Depending on the type of tea and the freshness of your spices, you might have to steep and/or boil for longer, if you’ve boiled it twice, stirred it nicely, and let it seep for a total of 10 minutes and you still don’t get the aroma of the Chai Masala flooding your nostrils, then double up on your spices and let it steep another five minutes. You should be able to smell the spices before you even taste them, if you don’t, the tea isn’t ready!
It’s important to test the potency of your spices before preparing a dry mix, so you don’t end up with the wrong flavors overpowering the rest. So make a small pot of tea before you blend a whole canister of Chai preparation. You’ll have to try different combinations and explore what your taste buds prefer, and go from there. Chai Masala is a lot more demanding than regular Chai, because the milk adds a very thick layer of complicated taste and texture that needs to be balanced out. But once you have it figured out, you’ll be glad you bothered… seriously… it’s THAT GOOD!
I like to use a tea filter to sift out all the grainy bits of spices and tea, which you can return to the pot for further steeping. I prefer to drink my tea in glass cups, it reminds me of home, and I love the transparency of it. If you’ve gone through the trouble of finding the right spices in the ideal amount for you, and the perfect timing for the steeping process, then why not indulge in your favorite cup texture? Also, since you’re at it, and probably even more importantly, DO invest in a good thinly meshed filter, finding little bits of tea leaves, crushed mint, or grated nutmeg in your mouth when you’re expecting a sumptuously smooth drink, will just spoil it for you.
Finally… kick back and ENJOY!