It is amazing how our taste buds change over the years because just one year ago, chai would be an unconceivable drink to have around. Now, the neighbors are probably sick of smelling it every time they return home!
Anyway, once chai became a regular offering here at home, a healthier and more economical way to prepare it was necessary. So, from this kitchen to yours, enjoy!
Chai tea is simple and inexpensive to make from scratch: All you have to do is simmer water containing cardamom, cinnamon, black tea, honey, and milk. Some folks love the added flavor of cloves and star of anise. However, the tricky part is in knowing how to use cardamom! So let’s begin, shall we?
The Skinny on Cardamom
There are several types of the spice cardamom, and the variety you want to use is green cardamom. The other types are used mainly in meat and other savory dishes.
Within the cardamom realm, there are three ways to buy it: whole, decorticated, or ground.
Whole cardamom is most recognizable because it is in the form of dried green pods. The trick with whole cardamom pods is that they need to be cracked open to extract the tiny cardamom seeds. Many do not realize they need to get to the seeds to use this spice properly. But, you will.
Decorticated cardamom is a fancy way of saying “shelled.” With this type of cardamom, you do not have to take the extra step with the green pod casing. It’s quite convenient, actually. And more expensive.
Ground cardamom is gritty, like nutmeg. It, too, is convenient. And yes, it is also more expensive.
It is best to use cinnamon sticks for making chai tea to really add flavor to your chai tea. Besides, cinnamon powder becomes goopy after being in a liquid for too long. Please note: Dollar-store cinnamon sticks are nowhere near the same quality as those from Indonesia or some other part of Asia. It is worth investing in a good bag of cinnamon sticks from your local spice shop. Having said that, your chai will still be fine with whatever your budget allows.
If you have no dairy concerns, whole milk is delicious in chai tea. However, regular soy milk offers great flavor because of its slight nuttiness. A good alternative is almond milk if you have no nut allergies.
This natural sweetener adds depth and richness that sugar never will. Make sure to start out with minimal amounts in the beginning because you may find that a little goes a long way. Besides, you can always add more later. If you do make it too sweet, just dilute your tea with more milk or water.
This really is your call. Of course a quality loose-leaf tea is best, but sometimes a bag or two of a store brand works just fine. Since you will simmer the solution for a short while, go easy on the tea because it may make your chai too strong if you use too much.
Now that all the ingredients are ready to, here is a basic recipe to get started. Feel free to tweak it to your liking.
6 cups of water
1-2 cups of milk
2 black tea bags
2 to 3 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cardamom pods worth of seeds OR 36-ish decorticated seeds OR 1 generous teaspoon of ground cardamom
¼ to ½ cup of honey
(OPTIONAL: One teaspoon of any or all of the following: cloves, start of anise, nutmeg, ground ginger, vanilla extract.)
Add all the ingredients to a pot large enough to hold it all. Bring to a slight boil and then simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes, or longer if desired. Strain before serving.
Enjoy! (And let us know what your fave combo of spices is!)