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Monday, 11 April 2011

Chai

Chai. One of those wonderful words which, when I hear it, makes me want it. Straightaway. No matter what time of night or day, no matter how hot or cold outside. Or inside. Chai. I hear it and I want to taste it. Freshly brewed, delicately spiced, milky, sweet and strangely comforting.  Chai is so intrinsically linked to life in India that it's almost too difficult to describe...it is drunk several times a day, usually at different times by different members of the household, it is the beverage most likely offered to guests who "drop by" to say hello - as guests often do in India,chai is served everywhere - literally everywhere - from roadside stalls in busy city streets serving up steaming versions of the beverage in steel or clay cups to fancy cafes in 5-star hotels serving their version of the "Indian Masala Tea" for 10x the price - in fact so ubiquitous is the association of Chai with India that the main protaganist of Danny Boyle's Oscar Winning Slumdog Millionnaire is mockingly referred to as "chaiwallah" throughout the movie (although he is really a junior call center employee whose duties include, amoung other things, making tea).

To me personally, the word invokes countless wonderful memories of home - waking up to smell of freshly brewed tea, family roadtrips upto the hills that inevitably involved stopping every half an hour for "chai-breaks" at the numerous makeshift stalls dotting the dusty pavements along the highway, train stations where vendors market their wares with their familiar, repetitive "cha-iiii, cha-iii", long chats with old friends over steaming mugs of chai, rainy evenings cuddled up on the couch with a cup of tea and spicy pakodas. And so, even though there are hundreds and thousands of varieties of tea and while purists will advocate that tea is not tea if it isn't just tea and boiling water, in my mind, tea is always chai - hot, sweet and milky.

Which brings me to my recipe. While there are countless recipes for chai across homes and restaurants combining brewed tea leaves with different spices to get the strong, spiced taste of the traditional masala chai, I tend to be really basic with my chai. Its takes me only 5 minutes to make. Here are the ingredients I use for my everyday tea:

- 1 cup milk (I use 1% milk, though -"wholer" milk = tastier chai...)
- 1.5 cups water
- 3 teaspoons tea leaves (usually a strong black tea, such as Assam tea)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 cardomom pod, split open
- 1 pinch grated fresh ginger

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Strain, pour and enjoy!
(Be careful not to look away. If it boils over, it takes longer to clean than to make...)

Sometimes I experiment with other spices in my chai - ajwain (carom seeds), a pinch of black pepper, dry ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, saffron, nutmeg...

Want a cup? Mmm...me too.

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