Indian Chai

You need this kind of tea and brand!

During my trip to India last February, one could not help but notice the ubiquitousness of Chai, or tea, in daily life. It is served everywhere. Breakfast, lunch, tea-time (of course), guests, roadside pit stops. It was sweet, savory, rich and flavorful, all at the same time. It was basically India in a tiny 100 ml teacup. It was always served in tiny cups only somewhat bigger than a shotglass. And they had to, because that tea was rocket fuel! Three cups of tea a day was enough to make my hands tremble and contribute to a fitful night’s sleep.

When I got back to Germany, I set about re-creating the tea I had in India. I knew from the get-go that what qualifies as tea here would not fly when making chai. It just wasn’t strong enough, no matter how long I kept the teabag in. I tried using English tea, but it really was missing a particular je ne sais quoi that I couldn’t put my finger on. A dimension was missing. Only when I was able to acquire Indian teabags was I really in business. You could mix the Indian with the English or German teas, but the Indian teabags have to dominate, a 2:1 proportion.

Indian tea leaves in those bags are not the shaggy cut up flecks we know. They seem to resemble tiny black beads–the tea leaves are curled or rolled up into balls.

The next challenge was the fat content of the milk in the tea. All the recipes I found online mentioned the use of full-fat milk (in Germany it’s 3.5% fat), but that did not approach the fullness of flavor I experienced in India. I realized by looking at Indian powdered milk, of all things, that milk in India has a much, much higher fat content. At 30%, it’s basically cream!

Once I put these two elements together, I was able to put together a chai that would make any expat Indian homesick.

Chai

(Serving: 500 ml-750 ml. Duration: 30 minutes)

DRY INGREDIENTS

2-3 teabags or 2-3 Tbsp. Indian loose leaf tea in a tea filter, tied with a string to secure. Brand is irrelevant, but I use Brooke Bond.
1 cinnamon stick
5 medallions of fresh ginger (basically a finger cut up into 5 pieces, no need to peel if feeling lazy)
4 cardamom seeds, crushed
1-2 pieces whole cloves
4 pepper corns, preferably black
1-2 pieces star anise
2-3 dashes of nutmeg powder
2-3 dashes of cinnamon powder
3-5 Tbsp. white sugar
2-3 sprigs of basil leaves to garnish (optional)

LIQUID INGREDIENTS
250ml or 500 ml water, depending on how much tea you want. Less water=stronger tea
250 ml full fat milk
1 jigger (30-50 ml) of cream
2 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk (optional)

Boil 250 ml to 500 ml water in a small pot with the teabags inside. When the tea comes to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and add the cinnamon stick, ginger medallions, crushed cardamom seeds, cloves, pepper, and star anise into the pot. Add the full fat milk, and re-boil. Be careful, as boiling milk increases volume and overflows! When the milk tea re-boils, turn the heat off again and stir the pot to remove the milk skin. Add the cream. If using sweetened condensed milk, add 3 Tbsp. of sugar. If not, stir in 5 Tbsp. of sugar. Add 2-3 dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg for a more intense flavor. Let cool for about 5 minutes and pour the tea into a thermos bottle using a sieve to catch the spices and broken-up milk skin. Add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg before serving, and garnish with basil if desired.