Chai (Indian Tea Latte)
No offense Starbucks – but I really really need to get this off my chest. There is a part of me that cringes whenever I hear someone order “Chai Tea Latte”. You think I’m about to go off about the nutrition don’t you? No, it’s not that. I’ve actually never really looked into what’s in a Starbucks Chai Tea Latte. The thing that bugs me is the name and the item itself.
Chai is what Indians call tea. In it’s most basic preparation – all it is is black tea, water, milk and a sweetener. Then, like any good Indian dish, you can add various spices to really kick it up a notch. Pretty much any Indian in India that isn’t trying to avoid caffeine will start their day off with a cup of chai. Now here is the part that makes me cringe — the word “chai” means “tea”. Quite literally – chai is the word for tea in India. So when someone orders “Chai Tea” – to me it translates to “Tea Tea”. That’s just weird. It’s almost like we’re stressing that the drink better be tea. Are we making sure that if the cashier doesn’t understand one language, they get the other? Who orders any drink like that?! Can you imagine ordering “water water” or “wine wine”. Why can’t we just call it “Chai.” like the 1.2 billion people who drink it every day in India do? Why add that extra “Tea”? Especially when all that “Tea” does is add a need for a further clarifier – “Latte”. Because certainly a “Chai Tea Latte” is not “Tea”. At least not what we think tea is.
Once I get over this misnomer, I then have to deal with the fact that Chai Tea Latte is nothing like chai. I mean sure there are hints of some spices there but that really isn’t what makes chai chai. When I think of chai, I really think of black tea brewing in water with some milk to give it a rich creamy taste. The spices come later if I feel like adding a little flavor to my tea. It certainly isn’t what defines chai.
Each person I know has their own recipe for making chai. I typically like to add ginger to mine because I’m a huge ginger fan. If I have cardamoms around, I throw those into the pot along with the ginger because it gives it a wonderful aroma and brings out a lot of warmth. The recipe I’m sharing below has both. A few tips:
- When making chai you can vary the amount of milk you add based on the strength you want your tea to be.
- Please don’t use soy milk. I’ve tried it and it just makes it taste terrible. I haven’t yet given almond milk a shot.
- Using tea bags instead of loose tea makes clean up much easier
- I don’t recommend having chai late in the evenings or nights if caffeine keeps you up. Unlike dip tea, since chai boils the black tea, it has a lot more caffeine than your typical soaked tea bag.
Don’t forget that I’m hosting this month’s Go Ahead Honey It’s Gluten Free. Please send me your entries for this month’s theme of Garden Tea Party by May 27th. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need a little inspiration – have a mini garden tea party by making yourself some wonderful chai.
Hope you enjoy the real chai!
Chai (Indian Tea Latte)
Makes: 2 servings
Ready in: 10 minutes
- 2 cups water
- 2 cardamom pods
- 2 black tea bags
- 1 inch ginger
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon honey
1. Put the water, tea bags into a pot over medium high heat. You can use a pestle to crush the ginger and cardamom pods. Or if you’re feeling lazy like me, just using your fingers to crush the cardamom pods. Add ginger and cardamom pods to the pot as well.
2. If you didn’t use a pestle to crush the ginger in step 1, use a metal grabber that is really common in an Indian kitchen to crush it up. You really want the juice in the ginger to release into the water.
3. Let the water come to a rapid boil.
4. Add the milk and honey. Let it come to a rapid boil. Now the weird step that I’ve seen many Indians do and I have no clue what really gets accomplished: Reduce the heat, once the boiling reduces, increase the heat to high. Let it boil till the chai is almost boiling over.. then repeat by lower the heat. Don’t know why we do this – perhaps trying to squeeze the very last bit of caffeine from the tea? Drink the tea super hot!