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Eat This

A Secret Family Recipe for Creamy, Dreamy Masala Chai

Eat This 04/11/2017

Texas sisters Katie McClure and Erin McClure Breen travel to the state of Rajasthan, India, a few times a year to oversee production for Mirth, their line of chic, prepare-to-live-your-best-life caftans—and while they’re there they drink a lot of chai. “Everyone in India takes multiple chai breaks throughout the day. It is a ribbon that binds people together,” explains Katie, who relies on the local chaiwalla, or tea man, to get her fix when she’s overseas. We asked her to bring back her favorite recipe, and she went to great lengths to get it. “Styles vary quite a bit, and exact quantities are hard to put down on paper because they’re passed down through generations—no one has an exact written version. But this recipe, which took about 45 minutes for the owner of a very chic hotel in Jaipur to dictate to me, is how his family does it,” offers Katie. It’s for a masala, a highly spiced and super-creamy style—one that will get you out of that afternoon slump for sure.

 

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MASALA CHAI, RAJASTHAN-STYLE

 

Ingredients (see Step 1 for notes):

1 small chunk fresh, peeled ginger or dried ginger

1 freshly ground clove

2-3 freshly ground green cardamom pods

Sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper, freshly ground

Optional: dashes of freshly ground cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, fennel, or coriander

Four tablespoons loose black tea (or more, depending on quality—see note in Step 1).

1 to 1 ½ cups whole milk

Sugar, to taste

 

Special Equipment:

Cheesecloth

Spice grinder 

 

Step 1: “Consider your ingredients. The first thing to keep in mind with chai is that in India, the weather and the time of the day governs what you put in your recipe. For example, cardamom is never used for chai served in the morning, but is usually included for the afternoon and evening (but only after food!). And the colder the weather, the richer the chai should be. So if it’s chilly outside, then add more milk and ginger and black pepper—the friend who gave me this recipe doesn’t use any of the optional spices listed, but you can experiment with them to see what you like best. It’s very important they are freshly ground just before making the chai. And if the weather is warm, you can use less milk for a lighter texture.”

 

“Also, a note on tea: The higher quality the tea, the less you should put in the pot. If you’re using low-quality tea, you’ll need to use more to get the flavor to come through. Bigger and thicker leaves and a pungent smell are all signs of fine tea.”

 

Step 2: “Fill a small pot with about two cups of water. Bring to a boil. Then add whichever spices you’re using in the order listed. Boil for two to three minutes more.”

 

Step 3: “Add the tea to the pot and boil for at least five minutes. The longer you boil the leaves, the stronger the tea will be—you can play around with the timing of this step to suit your taste.”

 

Step 4: “Strain the mixture through cheesecloth into a bowl. It’s very important to wring out the the contents of the cheesecloth to get the perfume from the leaves out and into the tea. Return the strained mixture to the pot and discard the spices.”

 

Step 5: “Return the liquid to a boil and add milk. In India, they usually use buffalo milk because it has a high fat content, which makes for a rich and creamy chai, but any full-fat milk will do.”

 

Step 6: “Keep the mixture simmering for a another five to ten minutes over a low flame. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t foam over, and just keep everything slow and steady until the milk is infused with tea and warmed. When it’s done, add sugar to taste directly to the pot and stir to combine. Indians tend to like it very sweet!” 


Step 7: “To serve, pour your tea first into a pot. Never pour it directly into a glass! Put the lid on the pot (ceremony is important here, and the pot must be closed), and then pour your first cup and savor your hard work. Some of the chaiwallas in India specialize in pouring the chai from way up high right into the cup. Skills!”

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