Here in the midst of winter, I have been craving and enjoying homemade chai. The warmth of its spices are like a hug for my insides. It’s a cozy beverage for this time of year.
But I must confess, I can be a little picky about chai.
Most of them are too sweet for me, and any of the pre-bagged ones don’t have enough time to get the potency from the spices without over-steeping the tea.
Chai takes time to make, hence the existence of chai concentrates on the market. Rather than buy these, however, I like to make a large batch of chai at home, and store the extra in the fridge. I simply take it from the fridge, pour out what I want into a mug or pot, then microwave or heat it on the stove before adding any milk or sweetener.
I generally don’t sweeten my tea, but chai is one of those things that benefits from a hint of sweetness—and fat—to bring out the flavor of the spices. For my own taste, usually just a hit of milk will do it, since milks have their own natural sweetness (even nut milks, like cashew, which I prefer). From time to time I’ll add a bit of honey or sugar for an extra treat.
This recipe is for the chai “base,” meaning the spiced elixir and options for tea steeping. Feel free to sweeten and “milk” to your own personal taste.
You’ll see below that a fair number of the ingredients are optional or have ranges. I have not yet discovered my “perfect” blend, nor do I think this is really the point. Sometimes I like to include star anise, and other times I want to leave it out. There are days when I want a lot of black peppercorn and ginger, others when I want things a bit more mellow. These are guidelines in which you can experiment and find what you like best. Also feel free to size this up; just note: I haven’t consistently made more than four cups at a time, so there may need to be some spice adjustment if you get up into tripling the recipe . . . . Bon voyage, and bon appétit!
Serves 4 | Makes 4 cups / 1 liter
Big Batch of Chai
2 cinnamon sticks, broken up roughly (or 1 really long one, if you have some like the ones I found!)
12 cardamom pods
8 – 10 whole cloves
5 – 10 black peppercorns
1 – 3 knobs of fresh ginger (about the size of your knuckle), cut in thin slices
1 tsp. coriander seeds (whole), optional
1 star anise optional
4 cups of water; *note: if you like a lot of milk in your chai (e.g., 25%, 50%, etc. to be milk), the I recommend reducing the amount of water you simmer the spices in, so the amount will be more concentrated. If doing this, add the milk after 20 minutes of simmering (see below), and bring your milk-spice mixture just to a boil before steeping tea, in accordance with instructions below (watch your pot so the milk doesn’t boil over).
1 T. + 1 tsp. tea of choice (or herbal infusion, like rooibos); a plain black, like English Breakfast works well. You can also go full-on Indian with a robust Assam. Decaffeinated black teas and rooibos also work beautifully here.
- Heat up a small saucepan on the stove, and set 4 cups of water to boil. Put all spices in the pot. **DO NOT add the tea yet.** (When I use my electric kettle to heat the water, since it’s faster for me, I place my spices in the pot while it heats up, and it toasts them a bit before the water is ready to add. Lovely smells.)
- Once the spice-water comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid, and simmer for at least 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, you can either a) steep your tea (Step 4), or b) turn off the burner and let the spices sit to steep for longer. Option b) gives a stronger flavor, but a) is great, too, if you don’t want to wait.
- Steep the tea: if you just turned the burner off, add your select tea or herbal infusion to the pot (off heat), and steep for the suggested amount of time. Then sieve the entire mixture into a teapot or jar, depending on whether you’re serving it all or saving most for later. **If you went with option b), bring your spice elixir back to boiling before steeping your tea (but steep the tea off heat once it reaches boiling).
- Allow chai to cool down a bit before placing reserved (in a glass jar) into the fridge to store.