So last weekend it was my father’s birthday and the weekend before that, my father-in-law’s. And while both, my father and father-in-law, may differ on many things, one thing that connects them is their passion and love for Chai!
Chai, is sweet, spicy and a milky tea that is steeped with a rich and complex history. From how tea leaves were first discovered in China to how it traveled the world is a very interesting, yet a long story spanning thousands of years. Today we are going to mainly focus on the modern masala chai and how it immersed itself into every Indian’s daily routine.
There are 3 main folklores of how this drink came about. First mentions are in the Hindu epic, Ramayana. During the battle against, Ravaan, Ram’s brother Lakshman was fatally wounded. In order to save his life, he was given a brewed herbal concoction, known as the Sanjeevani Booti.
Another legend is about a traveling Buddhist monk came across some wild leaves. Upon chewing them, he felt energized and rejuvenated and brought the leaves along with him to India and China. Though this closely resembles how the Chinese actually first discovered tea in the first place and may not necessarily be an accurate story of how tea leaves made it to India.
The more likely and accepted origin story of chai is in the Ayurvedic drink Kada or Kadha. This is a herbal drink made from roots, herbs and spices. There are many variations of Kada all throughout India, but most include ginger, basil leaves and peppercorns. In the early 600s AD, King Harshvardhan served a version of this drink to his courtiers and courtesans to keep them alert and attentive during long hours of deliberations.
Fast forward to mid-1800s and early 1900s, when the British ruled India. By then, the English had grown very fond of Tea. The British were trading tea with the Chinese, which inevitably became very expensive. Hence, the British stole the secrets of cultivating and producing tea from the Chinese in the 1840s and moved production to India and Sri Lanka. Assam, India provided the perfect climate and landscape for cultivating tea, hence some of India’s best tea comes from there to this day. These are both very interesting stories and I will definitely share in future posts. In 1881, The Indian Tea Association (ITA) was formed and Chai was promoted to all Indians.
In fact, my wife’s paternal grandfather was a tea merchant that manufactured tea to the British around this time and even adapted the last name, Merchant.
Naturally, Indian consumers eventually started to add the spices and flavors of Kada to the black tea. By early 1900s, milk was added to the mix. Initially the tea was extremely cheap, but due to ITA’s heavy promotion, its demand grew and with that so did prices. Hence street vendors that once built businesses around factories and train stations, added milk to leftover and already brewed tea leaves along with the spices and Masala Chai was born.
This recipe is also a result of leftover chai. As my dad says, why let a perfect cup of chai go to waste? Happy Belated Birthdays to my dad and father-in-law.
Masala Chai Recipe
Makes 2 Cups
1.5 Cups Water
1 Cup milk
1/2 TSP Ginger Grated or chopped
2.5 TSP Black Tea
2 TSP Brown Sugar
3-5 Mint Leaves roughly chopped
1/4 TSP Chinese 5 Spice blend (mix of Cinnamon, Fennel, Cloves, Star Anise, White Pepper)
In a sauce-pot, add water and bring to a boil on medium flame.
Add ginger, mint and 5 spice blend and let it simmer
Add brown sugar and black tea and let it boil, stirring occasionally
Pour milk and simmer for 2-3 minutes until it comes to a rolling boil
Turn the heat off, cover and let sit for 2 minutes
Using a mesh strainer or sieve, filter the chai and pour into cups
Makes 4-6 servings
1 Cup Steal Cut Oatmeal
1/4 Cup Chia Seeds
1/4 Cup Chopped Nuts
1 Cup Chai
1 Cup Milk
1.5 Cups Water
1/2 TSP Chinese 5 Spice blend
1/2 TSP Ghee
1/2 TSP Vanilla Extract (Optional)
Pinch of Salt
Pre-soak Chia seeds in 1 cup of milk for 30-45 min
In a Medium Sauce Pan, toast the chopped nuts on medium-low heat for 2-3 min
Add in Ghee, 5 spice blend, pinch of salt and oats mix everything well for 1-2 minutes
Pour in Chai and Water and stir well
Bring heat up to medium high and simmer for 5 min uncovered
Stir in Vanilla Extract and bring heat down to medium low
Cover and let cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan
Add in Chia Seeds and stir
Add in a bit more milk and water if it gets too dry
Cover and cook for another 10-12 minutes or until oatmeal is tender and creamy
Cook for a bit longer if you prefer a thicker consistency
Use honey, brown sugar or maple syrup as sweetener
Top with Granola and chopped nuts