My cup of Chai

Chai is a centuries-old beverage which has played an important role in many cultures.

chai tea 88 (photo credit: )
chai tea 88
(photo credit: )
Chai, pronounced with a chocolatey "ch" and rhyming with "pie," is a generic word for "tea" in many parts of the world. It is a centuries-old beverage which has played an important role in many cultures. True chai, a drink made from black tea, milk and spices, comes to us from India and has over 5,000 years of history. Some say it was invented by a king in the ancient courts of India and Siam who protected the recipe as one of his treasures. Of course anything so steeped in history and mystery is bound to attract contradicting stories. However, its roots can be traced unmistakably to the Hindu natural healing system called "ayurveda," in which combinations of spices, herbs and sweeteners are used to cure bodily ailments. In India, chai is served at bus stations, train stations and public markets. Street vendors called "wallahs" serve chai in clay cups called "kullarhs" that the wallahs make on the spot over an open fire. Indian chai is generally made up of rich black tea, heavy milk, a combination of various spices and a sweetener which is necessary to bring out the robust flavors of the spices. The spices used for chai vary from region to region in India, but the most common are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper. Drinking chai is part of life in India, and many who have traveled there come away with fond chai drinking memories. The diversity of chai recipes is endless, and since ingredients are available just about everywhere, making your own chai can be fun and allows you to experiment until you get it just right for your personal taste. While trying out many recommended recipes at home, I found that making chai is much like making an Italian minestrone soup - it's always good but everyone's recipe is different. But the part I liked most is that it makes the house smell yummy! Preparing 1 cup chai First, all of these ingredients should be fresh (or as fresh as possible). In a deep dish container, put 3⁄4 cup water, 1⁄2 cup milk, 1 full teaspoon black tea and spices as follows: 1 pod cardamom 2 pea-size fresh ginger 1 cinnamon stick 1 anise star 2 cloves In a pestle or on a hard piece of paper, crush all ingredients together and immediately put this mix in dish with water and milk. Keep them on heater plate or gas range for about 15 minutes and stir continuously. Add sugar to your taste. Drain through strainer and serve in a cup. FOR THOSE who like the taste of chai but aren't willing to spend the time in the kitchen, there's always the option of settling for a ready-made infusion. Ocha, the gourmet tea company that stormed Tel Aviv cafes last year, has two chai varieties in their series of natural infusions: Ayurveda Chai - a caffeine-free herbal infusion, based on the tulsi herb mixed with orange and ginger. Tulsi is a herb from the basil family that is considered holy in India. It is used in the traditional Indian Ayurveda medicine against flu, fever, cough and headaches. African Chai - another caffeine-free herbal infusion, based on the African rooibos herb, is mixed with fennel, aniseed, cinnamon and clove. Rooibos is rich in antioxidants, and has a soothing effect on the digestive system. Preparation instructions (from Alon Eitan of Ocha): Preheat your teapot and teacups with boiling water, and throw away the water. Use 1 tsp. of infusion per person (e.g. for a teapot of 4 cups use 4-5 teaspoons). Add boiling water. Cover the teapot or teacup and wait 5 minutes before straining and pouring the infusion into teacups (use a sieve if there is none in the teapot). Add sugar and milk to flavor. Alon's tip for a classical Indian Chai: For a real treat use some saffron - this is how they brew their Chai in Kashmir. Brew the infusion with boiling water in a covered teapot for 5 minutes. Strain and pour the infusion into teacups. Add sugar and milk to flavor. For a thicker flavor use less water and more milk in the brew. In any case, do not over brew. Brewing black tea above 5-7 minutes may result in an unpleasant bitter and astringent aftertaste. The same applies to cooking the tea on the stovetop. If your favorite cup of tea tends to be the fruity-flavored infusion, which is now the hottest European trend, Ocha has few recommended ones. Lemongrass-pineapple is a tropical mix of fruit and herbs; lemon-ice features organic green tea with lemon and apple; and the wild berries infusion consists of no less than nine different exotic berries mixed with Rooibos. Ocha's guava-chili infusion might sound rather odd, but dip your nose into this Mexican mix and you're most likely to change your mind. An irresistible aroma with a somewhat sweet taste of guava is offset by sharp flavor of chili pepper. This is a real winner.