I slept in a bit this morning, but so did the sun. Usually the sun is up over the mountains by 7 am, but the clouds were too thick. By the time I climbed down from the loft, Patrick was on a cleaning spree and gave me an open invitation to join him. “But I haven’t even had my tea yet this morning…” I replied. At 9 am came a brief, but torrential snowstorm of tiny little white balls that covered the ground within 10 minutes. Now the clouds are sluggishly lying on top and between the cracks of the mountains. It looks like Tibet. The sun is peeking through, and I can see a patch of blue. A fire is dancing in the woodstove, and smells of pinon mixed with cinnamon, ginger and cardamon are filling our tiny house. Ahhh, chai.
Chai means “tea”. In the West, chai refers to what in India is called masala chai, black tea brewed with spices like ginger, cinnamon and cardamon along with water, milk and sugar.
Thank God for chai. Or, should I say, thank India for chai.
Many of you might be coffee drinkers. I used to be. Until the day I first had Patrick’s homemade masala chai in Kansas City, 2001. I converted instantly. Since then, I’ve traveled in Nepal and India twice, for a total of 9 months, where I drank chai every day, several times a day.
In Nepal, our friend Punya said, “people drink chai to take a break, and they take a break to drink chai. Chai and break mean the same thing.”
We were told that in Benares, India, “Every tenth house, there is one paan shop (tobacco, spices wrapped in leaves for chewing), one temple and one chai shop.” In a city with over a million people, that’s a lot of chai shops.
There’s nothing like wandering the streets of a dusty, remote village when a chai wallah (a maker of chai) waves you to come sit by his (or her) side. They pour you a chai made fresh on an open fire into a primitive earthen clay cup, warming your hands as you cradle it. You take a sip. The sugary-sweet, spicy chai rolls over your tongue, awakening your taste buds, slowly spilling warmth across your throat, down through the center of your chest and into your stomach, warming you to the core. Ahhhh…
And so, I have another “creative distraction” for you. Okay, so it may not be realistic for you to drop everything and wander off to India, but if you aren’t a chai wallah already, what about a simple chai recipe? I think you’ll be hooked. It’s my favorite way to start a day.
FYI: There is no “one” chai recipe—there’s a gazillion ways to make chai. But since Patrick is my favorite chai wallah, this is a great place to start:
5 cups Water
1/4 cup grated fresh ginger (loosely packed)
1″ cinnamon stick
1 cup organic whole milk (yes, whole, and yes, organic!)
1/4 cup raw sugar (like sucanot.)
10 green cardamon pods
4 tsp loose black Assam tea (or 4 black tea bags)
makes 5, 8-ounce cups
Pour water into pot and put over high heat. Grate fresh ginger with a cheese grater and add to pot. Break cinnamon stick, add to pot and stir. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Thoroughly grind cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle or spice/coffee grinder. Add milk, sugar and cardamom to the masala and stir. Increase heat and bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Add tea, stir and cover. Steep tea for 3-5 minutes depending on desired potency, then immediately strain into separate pot to avoid over steeping. Give thanks and serve in your favorite chai cups.
Mmmmmm…As I’m finishing this post, Patrick brings me a chai, and instantly, I feel happier. He never follows a recipe. It is always different, depending on the day, the season or occasion. Today, his chai has extra ginger, a little fennel and a few strands of saffron. I feel oh-so cozy on this odd, cold, wintery May day with the sound of snow pouring on the roof and wind whipping against my window. The sun went back to sleep. The mountains are completely hidden, and I am content.
We’d love to hear how your chai experience goes…leave a comment below…