A Perfect Cup of Chai 03.17.2012

One of the best memories I have of visiting India is having a cup of chai very early in the morning with my grandmother.  She would make the tea and pour it into delicate tea cups she had had in her cupboard for decades.  We would sit outside on the front patio and sip, talking occasionally, but mostly watching the world wake up around us.  

My grandmother in 2006, making evening tea in her kitchen.  It was uncomfortable for her to stand so she perched herself on top of a propane gas cylinder to cook.   Cows frequently showed up at her kitchen window, and she would feed them leftovers.
I have never been able to replicate the taste of the tea she used to make:  it was simple, strong, and fragrant black tea.  And I also cannot replicate the experience of drinking tea in India -- we would watch cows walking by us, greet the milkman who arrived on his bike -- but it is still a respite for me.  A tea break is peaceful.  

I haven't met anyone who used the same recipe as someone else to make a perfect cup of chai -- it's all based on what spices you like, whether you want sugar added, and how much milk you take.  You can put a number of spices into chai, or just one or two. I usually will use one or two things I have on had.  You could also buy tea bags that are packed with chai spices but what's the fun in that?

These are the common chai additives: fresh ginger, fresh mint leaves, cloves, cardamom, and fennel seeds.  I had forgotten about using fennel seeds until my mother put it in tea just last week:  WOW.  It's really amazing. 

The tea I'm making today will include cardamom, cloves, fennel seeds, and fresh ginger.  

Ready?  Here we go!

Tea for One

Put spices in a small pot.

Add water.  For each cup, add the amount of water that fits into the cup from which you're drinking.  Put the water on medium heat.

Add 1 teaspoon of loose tea leaves (Assam or Darjeeling) or one tea bag per cup. Right now I'm drinking Whittard of Chelsea Assam tea -- it is wildly strong.

When the tea looks as if it's about to boil, add the milk. 

Lower the heat just a tad and bring the tea to a boil.  Once it starts rising, turn off the heat.

Strain the tea into your cup, add sugar, and stir.

And now to sit down for my cup of chai...until next time, happy eating and sipping!

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