Are you looking for a nice rich, creamy hot drink that fits into your paleo lifestyle now that winter is here? To me, there’s nothing better than a spicy, smooth, chai latte. There’s something a little bit exotic about all those warming rich spices. The smell is amazing, and the taste, delicious.
Apart from it being so good, there are two other motivations for making my own spicy chai blend:
- The ingredient list on some of the popular brands of chai latte mix in the supermarkets and used in cafes (that’s either a powder or syrup that you add to milk or water). Vegetable oil, sugars of various kinds, and high fructose corn syrup feature high on the ingredient list.
- When it comes to a chai tea blend (tea and spices that you would make up in a teapot) it’s the cost. I’ve found that a packet of a regular chai mix is anywhere from $15 – $20. I can make double the amount for around $5 – $7. That’s a lot more cups of chai for the money!!
A story of chai
Some years ago we had a visitor from India who showed us how to make traditional masala chai.
Chai simply means tea – which in India is spicy, sweet and milky. It’s become known as chai latte here in Australia – we’ve mixed our languages and added the `latte’ to indicate the milk.Back to the Indian guy in my kitchen…..
There were just three of us sitting around in the kitchen while he went through the long process of making a huge pot of chai. All the spices came out of the cupboard and the tea was chosen carefully. Of course the conversation revolved around tea in various cultures. He explained to us that there are many different spice combinations depending on the region of India, the family traditions, and individual preference.
We summed it up by saying that in Indian culture tea (chai) is milk with tea added. In Australia (with our English heritage) tea is black and we sometimes add milk. Our Chinese friend laughed and talked about the significance of the various teas in her culture and how it is often green or white a opposed to black.
Making the chai…..
Making the chai was quite a long process. He brought the milk (`it must be full cream’) to a gentle simmer, added the honey and spices and let is gently simmer for about 30-40 minutes. Then he added the tea leaves and let the mix simmer for another five minutes. This is so that the tea doesn’t over-power the flavour of the spices. Then it was all strained and served…..poured from a height so that the top was a bit frothy. Quite a ritual.
For most of us, we don’t want to be getting out all the individual spices every time we want to make a cup of chai, and nor do we want to be having to fiddle around and boil it for a long time. In fact, we are more likely to want to put a few scoops of some kind of powdered mix into a cup and add water. Let me tell you that once you have tasted the traditional chai (that really take too long), you will not want the powdered alternatives.
I’ve put together a recipe (with a variation) for the mix and then explain the how to.
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1 Tablesp. ginger – fresh ginger that has been dried
- 1 Tablesp. cardamom pods
- 2 teasp. fennel seeds
- 1 Tablesp. star anise
- 1 teasp. ground cinnamon (powder)
- 1 teasp. black peppercorns
- 1 Tablesp. whole cloves
- 50 teasp. large leaf black tea (Ceylon tea is great)
How to & Notes:
- Get the best quality spices you can. I usually buy organic.
- Crushing – you don’t want any of these spices crushed too finely, so a mortar and pestle is ideal. This gives you a nice `rustic’ look and prevents the spices settling as `dregs’ at the bottom of the cup. I do each spice separately as this seems to be easier and gives a more consistent result.
- Tea – I’ve found that a large leaf tea works the best for chai. So don’t get the regular box of tea leaves from the supermarket. (They work, but the flavour is not as nice, and you need lots less.) I like to use an organic, decaffeinated, large leaf Ceylon tea available from most tea shops.
- Cinnamon – I cut the sticks into 1cm lengths (using kitchen scissors) and pull it apart. That way you don’t get long bits that are hard to fit in a strainer.
- Ginger – I cut fine slices of fresh ginger and dry them in the food dehydrator (you could use the oven). I keep a supply of this in the cupboard especially for chai. It is so much nicer than ground ginger in a chai mix. Lightly crush the ginger. (See the ginger in the picture above)
- When the spices are crushed – blend together with the tea leaves….and there’s your chai mix. Now it’s time to brew a cup.
Red chai (or Rooibos chai)
- Follow the recipe above for the spices.
- Blend with 25 teaspoons of rooibos tea leaves.
Stove-top method (for two cups, because it’s always better shared!)
- Give the container a bit of a shake up as the mix may have settled
- Put 4 heaped teaspoons for chai mix in saucepan
- Add 1 cup water and 1 cup `milk’
- Bring to the boil
- Let it simmer VERY gently for about 5 mins
- Strain into cups
- Sweeten with honey & decorate with a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired. (I find that the heated milk is sweet enough.)
I prefer to have a frothy (textured `milk’) style of chai using coconut milk. So for one cup:
- Put two heaped teaspoons of chai mix into a strainer in a cup
- Add 1/2 cup boiling water and let brew while you texture the milk
- Texture 1/2 cup of milk using the steamer wand on coffee machine.
- Remove strainer from cup and add the milk.
- Sweeten with honey & decorate with a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired.
This may all look a bit complicated, but it’s really quite simple. Once you have the chai tea mix made up it doesn’t take very long to make a delicious, satisfying chai.
If you’re doing non-dairy paleo – no problem. There is no need to use dairy milk. This is just as nice with a dairy substitute such as almond milk. My favourite is coconut milk!!
As mentioned earlier, there are many variations on chai, so begin to experiment. Like most cooking, it’s not a science, it’s an art. Feel free to make changes according to your preferences.