Chai for a chilly morning

Three days at an outdoor festival, plus chilly weather and a head cold:  right now, I need a big cup of chai masala to get me going in the morning.  Coffee (especially my usual quick espresso) doesn’t cut it.  A longer-drinking, warmer beverage, preferably served in a thick mug, is just the thing to chase away the chill, deliver a mild caffeine kick, and tempt a decongestant-blunted palate.

Spiced chai (which literally means “tea”) became a coffeeshop cliche in the 90s, but I’m not drinking the awful, overly sweetened concentrates used at so many coffee joints.  My mug is full of the real deal–an infusion of black tea, milk, raw sugar, ginger and spices, fragrant and fresh.

Of course, the spices in chai vary according to the maker, but ginger, cinnamon, fennel, and cardamom are common.  Nice variations include ground almonds & saffron, mint, or green tea.

To make 2 cups of chai masala, combine:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3-5 teaspoons raw sugar (or honey), to taste.
  • 1/2 inch thick slice of fresh ginger, smashed with a knife blade several times
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 7-8 black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 4-5 white or green cardamom pods, crushed to release the seeds
  • 2 tsp loose black tea
In a 2-quart saucepan, heat all ingredients except the tea.  Bring to a boil for two minutes, then remove from heat, add tea and steep for a minute more.  Pour through a tea strainer to remove spices before serving in mugs.
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