How To Make The Perfect Cup of Chai
For me, chai serves up warm memories … of childhood trips to India when I would sit outdoors with my grandmother on chilly winter mornings and sip chai accompanied by Parle-G biscuits, of visits to my aunt’s place in Bangkok where I would look forward to having their spicy, gingery chai with heavily buttered toast, and of my mother who drinks chai numerous times a day like it’s going out of style. Every home with its own style and flavor of chai, every cup a special memory.
So you can see why I wouldn’t take “chai-making” very lightly. “Chai-making” is an art. It’s the easiest drink to make but also a hard one to get right. Too many people err on the side of making it too milky, too watery, or too tannic from having the tea leaves sit too long. There are two things you have to get right for chai to be good – flavor and color. I’ve been known to make good Indian chai (humble brag). My credentials? My chai has been approved by my parents and in-laws, the audience that typically has the most discerning and critical taste when it comes to true desi chai!
So let’s get on to it. Here’s how to make that perfect cup o’ chai!
1. Using the right brand of tea is essential. I’m a huge fan of tea leaves/teabags from Wagh Bakri or Taj Mahal, which offer strong yet balanced flavors. I hate Lipton
2. A tea without ginger is like Carrie Bradshaw without her Manolos. I might be overly picky but if I don’t have ginger in the house, I don’t even bother making chai. Sometimes I’ll substitute it with cardamom but ginger is really your golden ticket to great chai
1. It goes without saying but start by boiling some water (No “microwaving” allowed here!). If you’re making a full cup of chai, boil ¾ cup of water. Adjust ratio according to amount needed
2. Cut a generous slice of ginger (Tip: Always cut a wee bit more than you think is needed). Then, the key step…use a mortar and pestle to gently pound (not clobber) the ginger slice. You can also finely chop or grate the ginger. Allow water to boil with the ginger for about 3 minutes, which gives the ginger time to release its sharp, spicy flavors
3. Add milk (any milk will do, even fat-free works great). If you’re making a full cup of chai, add ¼ cup of milk (Beware: Adding much more than that will make your chai too milky!). Allow the mixture to boil for 2-3 more minutes
4. Add the tealeaves or teabag last. Personally, I prefer using teabags because the amount of tea in each bag is already predetermined and will allow consistency in your tea making (Tip: Use 1 tea bag for 1-2 cups of chai, 2 tea bags for 3-4 cups of chai, and so on. Trust me, the distribution of flavor works out). Allow the mixture to boil for 2-3 more minutes so that the chai flavors infuse (Beware: Timing is everything here, people! Don’t boil for too long otherwise the tea will become too dark in color and too tannic in flavor)
5. Pour the chai into a cup through a strainer and add sugar to taste. Enjoy your perfect chai accompanied by sweet or savory snacks, whatever your palate craves
|Enjoy the final product with a snack...in my case, a croissant!|