Chai means tea in several South Asian languages. Masala (literally, a mixture of spices) chai means spiced tea although many people associate masala chai with spiced milk tea.
The addition of milk is a British influence. Tea has been grown in some South Asian regions for thousands of years but tea was used as an herbal medicine rather than as a beverage in South Asia. It was not until the British ran into problems with the Chinese cohong did they start attempting to grow tea elsewhere to cut off the dependency from Chinese tea. It was after the British started cultivating tea in India did tea become known as a beverage in that part of the world.
Because the flavor and aroma of spices can be strong and overpowering, spiced chai is best made with strong black tea rather than green tea as teas with delicate flavors will get overwhelmed by the spices.
Last night, I was learning to prepare chai — or tea — the South Asian way. I started with spiced tea then made masala tea. Speedy and I tried both, and we decided we like our spiced tea without any milk in it. I used loose leaf Burmese black tea to make our spiced chai.
What spices are required for making spiced chai? Well, there seems to be no strict combination.
I used cardamom pods (which I didn’t know I had to crack open, sheesh), ginger…
… anise seeds and cloves. Just throw in all the spices in a pot of water and boil for a couple of minutes.
Some add the tea leaves and boil them together with the spices but I prefer to add the spicy water to the tea leaves afterward. Tea turns bitter when left in hot water for too long so I’d rather that they steep in hot water rather than boil in it.
Place the tea leaves in a strainer and pour in the spiced water. Allow to steep for two to four minutes. Strain before stirring in the sweetener. My cups come with strainers so it makes the job easier.
Use honey or sugar to sweeten the spiced chai. Enjoy it while hot.