Besides Desis and those with a refined palate, most of us don’t know what true Indian chai is. What we know as chai is a soup of herbs and spices sold at coffee shops anywhere in the city – often with an excess of cinnamon, sugar, or just plain weird stuff.
That’s why when my neighbors Aman and Karina invited us over for dinner last week, I asked them to show me how to make authentic Indian chai. They chuckled at my request. Why would I want to learn how to make such a mundane thing? But they must have been honored, considering that when we arrived at their place – bottle of red wine in hand – the ingredients were already laid out on their kitchen counter.
While Aman boiled the water, Karina opened the wine. A few minutes later we were drinking chai, eating crackers, cornflake mix, and then drinking red wine. Lots of red wine.
Aman and Karina met in high school back in India. They dated in college and then Aman came to the U.S. to further his studies. He took a job at an internet company. But it wasn’t long before he was back in India to be with Karina. Lovely, I know. But if you met Karina, you’d understand: She’s beautiful. And kind. And great company.
Aman’s job was bringing him back to Massachusetts, so Karina came along. They got married here, in India, and then moved to Allston. They have built a great network of Indian friends here – many young married couples like themselves.
Do they like it here, I asked? They love it. They love how people can be who they want to be here. Freedom of expression at its best.
As dinner went on, we discussed India’s caste system, the commingling of religions, arranged marriage, gender inequality. The more wine we drank, the more philosophical and political the conversation became. We also discussed issues of grave import, such as Indian head movements and Russell Peters. At the mere mention of Peters, everyone at the table said, in and Indian accent, “Take it and go!” It’s a thing. I’m not kidding. Watch Russell Peters do it here.
While both confess no to be skillful cooks, Karina and Aman make chai every morning for breakfast – and that’s how they have brought a small part of India to Allston.
Pudina (mint) Chai Ingredients (makes two servings)
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons of loose black tea
- ½ cup milk
- Fresh mint leaves (two sprigs)
- Sugar to taste
- Heat up water in a small saucepan.
- Add tea and chopped mint leaves to the water and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer for two minutes.
- Add milk and sugar and simmer for another minute.
- Strain into cup.
Chai is meant to taste predominantly of your favorite spice, with black tea and milk as the base. You can substitute the mint in this recipe for fresh ground ginger, crushed green cardamom pods, chai masala powder, cinnamon, cloves, and so on.
You can get all the ingredients at Cheema’s on Cambridge Street. If you want to be as authentic as possible, don’t forget to serve with biscuits and cornflakes.
9 thoughts on “How to Make Indian Chai”
Will have to try this sometime, sounds perfect for winter.
I want a chimichurri recipe. 😉
Thanks for the request! I’ll definitely add it to the list of recipes to share in this blog. Authentic Argentine chimichurri is very popular here. Keep an eye out for it!
Here’s the chimichurri recipe: https://cookedinallston.com/other-recipes/chimichurri/
Let me know how it turns out
Did I miss something? The directions never tell when you add the tea!
Good catch, Una. I’ll make the edit now!
I’m glad Aman and Karina set the real chai recipe straight. It looks easy and delicious, will definitely try it!
I’ve tried the Starbucks and found it way too sweet!
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I’m sorry but Chai is not cooked for two minutes, not even close. Chai is traditionally found in the streets all over India. And even though I have never heard of your friends mint variety (it is totally possible), the one all Indians will recognize is “Masala Chai”. And like all Chai’s this has to be boiled and simmered with various ingredients for a long time. Basically you take the most simple Cheapest black tea, usually Lipton ( do not make chai with refined tea as the subtle flavors will simply be lost), and boil it in a small amount of water with some core spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and raw ginger, if you want those flavors. Then after these harder spices have broken down, especially the ginger (usually 5-10 minutes), you will have a super concentrate, you then slowly had hot milk. As a rule for your initial amount of water you need 4 times as much milk. But it is a process that takes around 30 minutes at least, where you keep adding milk and then adjusting the flavors. Along the way, you will add black pepper, all spice, cloves, saffron, etc. There are many flavor profiles of Chai, my personal favorites are Masala Chai or Saffron Chai. You learn to make chai by trial and error. But one thing is true about Chai that is universal, while you cook it, you are constantly stirring the milk to keep it from boiling over and you eventually simmer it for a very long time. This reduces the milk and water mixture to a very dense drink, this creaminess is key for Chai. Once you have your creamy Chai you serve and mix in Gur to taste, which is basically raw brown sugar (jaggery). A Chai must never feel or taste watery, it is usually creamy, bursting with flavor and has a molasses type sweetness. Few things can be eaten or drunk on the streets of India without most from abroad tempting fate. But Chai’s made at every corner street stall can without anyone worrying about a doctor. Why? The simple reason is that they are boiled, and boiled, and boiled again all day. So the true secret of a Chai is to keep it simmering for a very long time.