It’s January, and who doesn’t need a little boost wherever they can find it? I spent last weekend in a school retreat, studying qi gong, an ancient system of energy movement that’s a bit like yoga and is part of our Chinese medicine curriculum. Now my apartment is a mess, I’m behind on homework already, BUT — excited about getting my new clinic space ready for patients! Oddly, I don’t feel like drinking coffee these days. If you pay attention, your body always tells you what it needs, and mine apparently doesn’t need coffee right now because it isn’t appealing. Rather than just stay on the java out of habit, I’ve been been making nice pots of spicy Indian milk tea. It’s the right kind of treat when you want a little something to warm you up and make you feel loved, soothed and energized all at the same time. Maybe that’s why millions of people all over Asia are sustained by cup after cup … day after day …
This year I’m trying to make more and buy less out of both financial necessity and personal preference. The chai in coffee shops is almost far too sweet, anyway. And there is something unappealing about a drink that’s made from a syrupy mix that comes straight out of a plastic bottle. How nourishing is that? Not very. Real chai from scratch takes very little time to make and is a whole different animal — just like anything made with your own hands.
Making your own masala chai (which just means spiced tea) is not only easy, it’s much tastier, and means you can control the amount and type of sweetener that goes in. You can also choose the spices to add. Helping choose the spices and make the tea is fun for kids, and a tea party is a great activity that doesn’t involve screens or electronics. My Mom got us through many a freezing winter afternoon in the Maine woods with tea parties. Stuffed animals and dolls enjoy endless amounts of tea and never tire of dressing up for the occasion.
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 inch chunk fresh ginger root, sliced
- 6 cardamom pods, slightly crushed so they are open
- 10 cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 star anise
- 2 cups milk of any sort (if using nut/soy milks, use unsweetened)
- 2 tablespoons loose black tea
- honey to taste
Put the tea and whole spices in a pot with two cups of water. Bring the water just to a boil, then turn down the heat, and let the tea simmer very slowly for five to ten minutes (depending on how much time you have!)
Next add two cups of milk and again, bring just to a boil, and turn down the heat to barely a simmer just for a minute or two until it’s all a lovely caramel color. Turn off the heat and add sweetener if you want it. I add about one regular kitchen teaspoon of honey to the whole thing. Now, strain the tea through a mesh strainer into a teapot or individual cups,.
If you don’t want to add all these spices … then don’t! Just as there are chocolate chip cookie purists, there are chai purists, who fervently believe that perfect chai is simply good black tea and milk! I like to add the spices because they are all deeply warming to the body, according to Chinese medicine, and I appreciate that quality in the dark winter months. Experiment, and see what you like. Also, if you don’t have the whole spices, just use powdered — start with just a bit (1/4 teaspoon of each) — you can always add more at the end …
Also, a time-saving tip — you can make your own chai concentrate to keep in the fridge so you can have a cup ready to go in a minute. Just multiply the amount of water, tea and spices by however much you want to have on hand. When I’m doing it this way, I simmer the spices for ten minutes, then add the tea and simmer ten minutes more. This extracts even more zing from the spices. Then once you’ve simmered your tea, strain the whole thing out into a large jar, let it cool down, and refrigerate. Then you can just add this concentrate to your milk in a 1:1 ratio and heat up anywhere. Stick it in the microwave at work!