Working in a North Indian restaurant in Edinburgh during my student days, I battled the infamous Scottish wind and rain to get to work, to be welcomed with a cup of sweet masala tea…
…and it soon became one of my favourite non-alcoholic drinks of all time; I thought it was much nicer than plain old Yorkshire tea (much to my Mum’s disappointment).
In 2010 I went to India and was in sweet-masala-tea *h*e*a*v*e*n. Chai wallahs were everywhere (much like Starbucks here) − street corners, public transport, on the beach, halfway up a mountainside, on a houseboat in the middle of the Keralan backwaters − with an urn of tea in tow. The pleasure at hearing the echoing of “chaiii chaiiii chaiii chaiii” throughout the corridors on the train is a memory I will never forget (see post 33 Hours on the Coimbatore Express). The job of a chai wallah is an important one: they keep India running at circa 5 rupees (6p) a pop.
The chai (which simply means “tea”) is made by boiling tea in water and milk, with a combination of fresh and ground spices, and of course sugar. There is no fixed formula; families have their own recipes and Indian markets sell made-up blends. There are so many possible variations of masala tea that it is considered to be a class of tea, rather than a specific type.
Historically, tea was considered to have medicinal properties, and was not really drunk as a recreational beverage. The spice blends used today in masala chai are those found in ancient Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medical texts.
I have been lucky enough obtain the recipe from my chai-supplying ex-colleague Mr Bimal Basnet, now Head Chef at Namaste Kathmandu, a fabulous restaurant in Edinburgh boasting “unique, royal Nepalese and Indian cuisine.”
Makes two cups
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 tea bag
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
4 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
2 black cardamom pods, slightly crushed
Teaspoon fennel seeds
Sugar to taste
- Place a cup of hot water and a cup of milk into a pan.
- Add the spices.
- Put over a heat and bring to the boil; add the tea bag and turn it down to a low-to-medium heat; let it brew for 15 minutes.
- Add sugar to taste.
- Strain and drink.
For more information about chai, including more recipes, see chaipilgrimage.com; these guys are crazy about chai!