It’s November, which means several things. First of all, it means everything has suddenly got very cold and the evenings have got very dark. Second of all, it means it’s NaNoWriMo time again and we need writing fuel. Finally, the shops are all selling mulled wine spices. And that means… CHAI MASALA.
I recently got a spice grinder (well, a coffee grinder, but it’s not like you can’t put spices in it) and to try it out I’ve been making chai masala every night, trying to fine-tune the recipe to my taste. This is what I have. Just to stress, this is based solely on my tastes, so it’s pepperier and anisier than a Starbucks chai latte. However, I think it’s too good not to share, so here it is. This makes a potful, or about three mugsworth.
- 1 star anise
- 6 cloves
- 8 green cardamom pods
- Half a stick of cinnamon
- A teaspoon of aniseed
- A bit of a nutmeg (about 10 seconds of grating)
- 6 peppercorns
- A smallish (say, 1 cm x 1 cm x 2cm) of fresh root ginger
- About 5 teaspoons of sugar (to taste)
- 700 ml water
- 400 ml milk
Now, you can replace these spices with their powdered equivalent – you don’t have to be a pretentious nob like me! The only thing is that if you use powder, you can’t strain it out and your tea gets a bit gritty. The spice grinder makes the spices a bit rougher, so a decent tea strainer or fine sieve can catch them.
Grind together all the spices except the fresh ginger until you have something with roughly the appearance of ground coffee. Everything should be finely chopped, but don’t worry about the fibrous cardamom pods. The finished product should look a little bit like…
Put the masala in a fine tea strainer (ideally, one that you can close) together with the finely chopped ginger (you don’t want to add the ginger before cooking because a) it’s a fresh vegetable, and will go off if you try to store it, and b) it makes the masala moist and clogs up your grinder). In a saucepan, mix the milk and water, add the spices in their strainer, and then heat on a very low temperature. The ideal temperature would be one that simmers the milk/water without quite boiling it, but my electric hob doesn’t give me that much control. A bit of a burnt milk taste is actually quite nice, but as the milk cooks, it gets stickier, and that can clog the strainer. (You can add the spices loose, and strain them at the end, but I find that most of the spices get stuck in the froth of the milk and you don’t get the flavour out)
Let it cook for about 15 minutes, and then add sugar. Keep tasting until the sweetness and the bitterness balance nicely. If it’s spicy enough, plonk in a teabag (Yorkshire Tea works well) and simmer for about 2 minutes. Because the milk has probably thickened a bit, you might need to squeeze the teabag to get the tea out. Taste it, and if all is well then take out the teabag and the tea strainer and pour into a pot.
And that’s my chai.