Chai it out

Hey friends! Have missed you all. I decided to take a short break from blogging about food because frankly, I had a lot to learn about my new diet. This was akin to finals week (or “Hell Week,” as we fondly refer to it) at Baldwin. I was cramming info about gluten free diets!

For instance, did you know that there are twice as many flours that go into a gluten free cake as there are in a regular cake? And they all do different things and taste different? My pantry is now stocked with: Potato starch, brown rice flour, white rice flour, soy flour, chestnut flour, pumpkin seed flour, buckwheat flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot starch, corn starch…the list could go on. Seriously. There are flours out there you’ve never dreamed of. This wheat free thing is intense. I have no idea how to structure recipes or what leavening agents to use and how much. The last few weeks have been an exercise in mental yoga.

Anyway, I’ve started out slowly, experimenting with some small things like buttermilk biscuits and brownie mixes. So far, so good. But one of my favorite homemade treats this month has nothing to do with flour or starch or anything to do with baking. I’m in love with, completely addicted to in fact, freshly brewed chai tea. Never had it? Listen up, this is important.

Chai originated in India. It’s a milky, spice infused tea drink that pretty much tastes like a holiday in a cup. MMM. I usually drink Oregon Chai, which is a pre-prepared concentrate and fabulous for those mornings when you’re rushed or those evenings you’re pooped. I take it camping, on trips and keep some in my office. I’m addicted. But truth be told, I read the story of how the owners of Oregon Chai started their business and thought “How hard could this stuff really be to make?”

My now-ex-but-still-fabulous college roommate Jenn Wilde was the Commanding Officer of our VWIL Program in college. Being the big cheese gives you lots of opportunities to attend campus events VIP style, and one of these involved an Indian chap named Srinivas Krishnan. He is the founder of Global Rhythms World Music Ensemble, as well as a family friend of our college president. During Srini’s stay at Mary Baldwin, Jenn was invited to our president’s house for dinner, where Srini made traditional Indian chai. Not being involved in the VWIL program, I was not in attendance but I did get rave reviews about the chai. This fall, I emailed Dr. Fox’s husband Mr. Layman to get the recipe and try it out!

Listed below is an adaptation of Srini’s recipe. I really encourage you to try this out in all it’s glory. You can play with the proportions of spices if you like too! There is really nothing else quite like it. The process does look a little labor intensive, but the ceremonial aspect of it can be fun.

Srini’s Chai

1 c. of water per person

per 1 c. of water:
5-8 whole cardamom pods
1/4 cinnamon stick
4-5 whole black peppercorns
1/8 tsp. whole fennel seeds
5-7 whole cloves
1 whole star anise
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp. black tea, loose
1/8 c. milk
1 tbsp. brown sugar

1. Bash up all your spices (minus the ginger) in a mortar and pestal. You don’t want to reduce this to a powder, but make sure that it’s well crushed. You can also use a coffee grinder, but be careful not to over-process the spices. The pieces have to stay large enough to be caught in a strainer.

2. Bring water to a boil, then add spices, ginger, and tea. Boil for 5 minutes, covered.

3. While water is boiling, heat milk and brown sugar in a saucepan until hot and whisk together. Do not boil.*

4. Remove spice mixture from heat and strain liquid into cups. Add even amount of milk mixture to each cup and whisk.

*Do NOT try to add the hot tea mixture to the cold milk mixture. It can potentially cause the milk to curdle, based both on the heat and the acidity of the ginger.

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