We call this chai tea in America, but every time I hear the name I twitch a little because it’s the equivalent of saying “tea tea”. Tea, in general, is called chai in India. And chaikhana are open-air tea houses in Afghanistan. Tradesman and those traveling in caravans around the Mediterranean drink chai sabz to quench thirst, which is green tea, and chai siyah, black tea, is used as a warming beverage.
Masala chai, is spiced tea, or what we think of when we order a chai in a coffee shop or buy in a neatly wrapped package of chai tea bags off of a food store shelf. I have never sampled an American “chai tea” that I didn’t like. The first I tried was given to me by a coffee shop owner to taste, years ago. It came from a sweetened, flavored powder mix, like Ovaltine, and was delicious. I asked if it was tea, she said she didn’t know, that it was just chai, and “isn’t it so good?!”. I thought so but was a little surprised that a coffee shop owner wouldn’t know all about her product. I also suspected that the powdered packet she’d mixed with water was far from the traditional method of brewing a cup of chai, whatever it was. So I did some research and learned that our “chai” is basically spiced tea. So she was right to say it was “just chai” even if she didn’t know exactly what it was made from.
I started buying tea bag versions and grew to love how quickly a cup can clear occasional sinus trouble, or even help to open lungs when sipped throughout the day when a cold settles into the chest. I began to treat my husband, children, and myself with cup after cup when a virus would hit. Then I discovered how well strong masala chai helps a sinus headache that stubbornly refuses to leave. Not always, but it’s the first thing I go to when I realize I’m feeling the beginnings of one of the one-sided headaches I sometimes get that can go on for a day or two if I don’t quickly attempt a remedy.
Lately, however, I’ve taken to sipping a cup before my morning yoga session. I don’t have sinus issues, per se, and have never been tested for allergies but I do know that different things bother me at different times throughout the warm seasons. I never realized how much trouble I have with my sinuses, however, until a few years ago when I started practicing yoga. You can’t breathe in and out of your nose if it’s stuffy. And you can’t effectively move through yoga postures without focusing on your breathing. Sometimes my sinuses were so irritated that I would have to wait until later in the morning to begin yoga, which threw my entire schedule off. So when my nose started interrupting my schedule when who knows what started bothering it last week, I started skipping my first-thing-in-the-morning cup of decaffeinated coffee and chose to brew a cup of commercially prepared chai instead. When I ran out of tea bags, I decided to make my own “chai”. Spices and black tea. How hard could it be? When I worked in restaurant kitchens I always carried a jug of home brewed ginger green tea to keep the headaches I get when overheated at bay, so I couldn’t see how much different making spiced tea would be. I mixed up a batch to use by 1/4 teaspoons and and now make it per cup. It tastes just like my favorite boxed varieties. Here’s my recipe.
3 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. garam masala (I used to make my own but when I started using so much after Hubby’s heart attack I started buying it ready-made. For this recipe I used McCormick)
1/4 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Black tea bags
Vanilla or orange extract
To an 8oz. mug of boiling water, add one black tea bag and 1/4 tsp. of the spice mix. Steep 5 minutes. I sweeten and add cream to mine.
I also add around an 1/8 tsp. of vanilla to my cup for vanilla chai or a few drops of orange extract for orange chai. The orange is fabulous with all those warming spices.
The Book of Tea~ Stella, Alain; Brochard, Gilles; Beautheac, Nadine; Donzel, Catherine; Walter, Marc