Long ago, in another life, I lived in Santa Cruz, and rode my bike to work at a little local organic market called Staff of Life. It was a crunchy place, in a town full of crunchy places. I loved it. It was there I learned a lot about healthy cooking, organic foods, whole foods, cooking with bulk items, and dealing with the smell of patchouli. I was young. It was fun. I used cotton bags before it was vogue. I made some good friends.
One of the things Staff of Life was known for was making THE most awesome Chai tea. And this was waaaaaay before most people even knew what Chai was- think about 199o. I adored the stuff, and was never without my mug while at work. Of course we all used ceramic mugs, because nevermind Styrofoam, even paper is evil in Santa Cruz. Anyhooo…
While there amid this organic bliss, I worked out the recipe for this amazing chai. It wasn’t really necessary to make it myself until I moved to Seattle for college- the pot simmering away in my small Capitol Hill apartment brought the warmth and goodness of home to a dreary Seattle morning.
Two things to know before you make it: Follow the directions. Really. The only thing you can leave out, if you’re a Mo, is the black tea. It will be thick and very strong. That’s good. Most of the commercial- or even restaurant- chai is insipid and too weak. It’s strong because you are going to cut it with milk or soy. It needs to be strong. You will thank me.
I wish I could show you the written recipe- in order not to lose it, I wrote it in big black Sharpie on the inside back cover of my Moosewood Cookbook, then I laminated it. Over the years it’s sunk deep into the paper, like an old tattoo, and you can even see it from the outside now. Not having a camera sucks…
Here’s the cast of characters…
- A stock pot that will hold a gallon + of water
- 1/4 cup green cardamom seed pods, lightly crushed to break open
- 1/4 cup fresh ginger root, chopped, with skin
- 1/4 cup cinnamon bark, broken into chips
- 2 Tbsp whole cloves
- 1 Tbsp whole black Tellicherry peppercorns
- 3 star anise
- 2 Tbsp loose black tea leaves
- 1/2 cup honey
Fill your stock pot with one gallon of fresh water. Add everything except the honey and the black tea. Simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered. It needs the time for the spices to release their amazing-ness- but be super careful not to scorch or burn it- a watched pot never boils, and that’s good, you don’t want this to boil. Watch it.
The house will smell amazing. Children and random strangers will follow their noses to your kitchen.
Once you are satisfied that the spices have given up their all, add the honey and loose black tea (or not). Cook for another 15 mintues. If it’s too strong for you, and it will be strong, you can add some water and bring back up to a simmer. Strain entire pot over a sieve or cheesecloth, and discard spent spices.
Serve with frothy milk or soymilk (this one instance where I love soymilk). It will keep in the refrigerator for a while- but it never lasts more than a day in our house.