Not only does this tea taste delicious and warm the bones on a blustery and chilly day, it also smells simply amazing and brings a rich coziness to home.
Known as Chai tea in North America which given that chai simple means tea, so we are in essence saying I’d like a tea tea when we order, but in India, this rich and spicy tea is a staple of everyday life and simply known as tea. I still have a recording of my time in India from a train station hearing where there were dozens of chai vendors, each with their unique (and often very loud) chai call. And there was something magical about being on an overnight train and having a chai vender come walking through at the crack of dawn and getting to sip on a this spicy warm magical drink to start the day!
There are so many variations to this recipe so it often comes down to preference or what you have in the house. I like to simmer my chai for awhile to get the deep rich flavour infused in but really you could boil up a batch in a relatively short time. You want the spices to simmer a bit on their own first and then add the tea and steep it until the tea takes on a deep rich tan colour (about 3-4 minutes usually does the trick). You can add sweetener right in the mix or add it afterwards. I tend to only use maple syrup for sweetening in general but it’s wonderful without and you can also add honey or another sweetener of choice.
All of the spices in this mix are considered warming (not rocket science if you’ve ever sucked on a piece of ginger!) which makes them a wonderful addition to the daily diet in the colder fall and winter months to help keep your insides warm and your outside cozy and happy.
If you’re someone who runs really hot and overheats easily, you might want to keep the chai consumption to a minimum and keep to a lighter spiced version. For those of you who run cold, this might be a great beverage of choice year round! In any case, you’ll be stocking your inner fire when you sip on this first thing in the morning which will ultimately help kick start your digestive system and warm your heart!
6 cups cold water
2 cups milk of choice (non GMO soy, almond, organic whole milk, etc.)
1 large heaping tablespoon of loose black tea. If you don’t have loose tea just open up your tea bags and use that tea (3-4 bags)
3-4 sliced rounds of fresh ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
8 Cardamom pods – lightly crushed to open the pods (use side of knife or mortar and pestle)
options – I don’t use all of these, but both can make wonderful additions. I recommend playing around with the different spices to see what combination tastes best to you.
Fennel seeds (1/2- 1 tsp)
Star Anise – 1 Piece
Coriander seeds – pinch
Turmeric root – 2-3 slices
It’s the method that’s the key with this so feel free to play around with the amount of spices and strength of your chai. Adding more ginger or pepper will make it spicier, more cinnamon, fennel or cardamom a little more sweet.
You want roughly 2 parts water for 1 part milk so if you stick to that ratio, you can make larger or smaller batches as you like. You want it to simmer so the spices infuse into the mix and you can play around with the amount of black tea you add, even opting for a version without the tea if it’s close to bedtime but you still want a warm and spicy hit.
Bring water and milk to a simmer with your spices in medium sized saucepan. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and add the tea. Simmer with the tea until it takes on a a deep pink-tan colour (3-5 minutes) stirring occasionally. Strain into a cup and add sweetener if desired.
Take a big deep inhale. Sigh. Enjoy
The Medicine in your cup
Each spice has a unique action on the body, and we use herbs or spices in concentrated amounts to evoke change and healing in the body. When you understand what properties are in the foods you eat, you can better use food as medicine – adding more of the things that will help you heal and limiting the things working against you. The following breaks down the chai spices so you can mix and match for taste, but also for how you are feeling internally. As always, if you want a more detailed and customized look into your constitution, seek out a one-on-one treatment with your local practitioner.
Cinnamon -adds a spicy sweetness. It’s said to stoke the root fire (ming men fire) in TCM. It’s also
Black Pepper – gives the tea a bit of a spicy bite. These are one of the best foods to warm the stomach so amazing for anyone who has trouble with raw foods or cold icy drinks (please don’t drink them in the winter btw!).
Ginger – Fresh and pungent, ginger offers a a spicy warm flavour and fresh ginger is one of the best spices to take when you’re feeling bone chilling shivers at the start of a cold or flu. It warms the stomach and spreads that warmth throughout the body. It’s also great for relieving toxicity in the body (which is why it’s actually served with sushi, as it’s antibacterial effect can balance out any bacteria from the fish. It’s also warms the stomach which would balance out the cooling effect of eating raw fish!)
Cardamom – slightly sweet, warm and aromatic, this herb is also great to strengthen the cold stomach. Helpful in nausea and vomiting but also great for those who suffer from “damp” conditions (think heavy headed and heavy limbed, congested or puffy feeling particularly when it rains out). The aromatic side of it makes it good to move the energy or Qi in the body which gives it a somewhat uplifting quality.
Black tea (optional) – stimulant, refreshes
Cloves – musky and strong, cloves offer up a spicy warm hit as well. They are also good at bringing energy downward and strengthening core energy (we call it kidney yang). As it is great at bringing energy down, it makes it great for those who suffer from hiccups, vomiting or lack of appetite.
Fennel Seeds – another warm and spicy herb which is also great to harmonize the stomach which makes it great for anyone who gets digestive upset or stomach aches. This is why you’ll find a little bowl of fennel seeds at the exit of many indian restaurants – It will warm and soothe the digestion after a meal.
Star Anise –a bit sweeter and darker flavour than fennel, this beauty also helps warm but relieve pain in the body as well that feels worse with cold. It’s great for the liver and kidney system (TCM terms) and helpful for improving the appetite for those with a slow digestion and lack of that digestive fire (read: hunger) particularly first thing in the morning.
Coriander Seeds –sweet and milder in flavour with slight citrus notes, coriander is known to be pungent and warm in flavour. It too is focused on the stomach as well as the Lung systems in TCM which makes it helpful for nausea and stomachaches. Coriander is also known to have building or strengthening properties to it, so it makes for a wonderful tonic in the cold winter months.
Note: all these spices are warm in nature, so if you’re someone who runs hot, over heats easily or finds yourself irritable if too hot, best to stay clear of these and opt for some cold pressed juices instead!