I first encountered the wonderful Indian beverage of ‘Chai’ after a meal at Imli in London. My host was shocked to discover I wanted a plain green tea after a superb lunch and said ‘No! It must be chai, hot and sweetened and served with milk!’ As I don’t usually take milk in tea or coffee and only a tiny touch of sugar in either I was reluctant to agree but accpeted his recommendation – and was pleasantly surprised. Spicy, aromatic, calming and deeply satisfying it is a wonderful drink and one I have just started to make at home as a pre-bedtime drink (it is believed to help sleep).
Basically chai tea is an infusion of classic Indian whole spices – based on cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black peppercorns (although doubtless thousands of variants exist!).
The milk and water are brought to boiling point, the spices and chosen sweetner added, then simmered for 2 minutes and then strained into cups. I have a pre-mixed pack of chai spices but will probably use my own spices once that’s used up – it’s pretty simple to prepare. In India street vendors – known as ‘Chai Wallahs’ – serve this as a local laternative to Starbucks!