22 April 2007

Memories of my youth

I've recently rediscovered these teas that I drank when I was a teenager. They must be the two oldest flavours from Celestial Seasonings because I think I remember my Mum having a box of Mandarin Orange Spice in the cupboard even when I was a kid in the seventies. I imagine some of the participants in the old hippie trail across Europe to India in the sixties brought back the idea. I'm blogging alongside my last cup of Bengal Spice, kicking myself for not seeing this coming. I have to order them from an import company and it can take weeks.

These days I delight in making my own chai when I have time and sometimes even chai rooibos, if I'm feeling a bit caffeine-free. It works well.

The best chai I've ever made was back in Auckland and I had got ahold of a carton of local 100% whole organic milk that just made it taste so authentic. After a trip to one of our many Indian shops, Spice Invaders, I excitedly carried home my little bag of chai masala while munching on a packet of bhuja mix. Then I found that a friend had left me the organic milk and I was in heaven.

In India, there is nothing like rocking up to a chaiwallah and asking for a cup. It's been stewing all day and it's served in a little unfired clay cup that you crush on the ground after you finish drinking the elixir. Totally green!

There are as many recipes for chai as there are people who drink it and I never really make it the same twice as I never have exactly the same ingredients, but here's one good way...

1. In a medium-sized pot, bring to the boil, water and sugar if you like (I usually add a couple of teaspoons, but an Indian chaiwallah would add about two cups!). Actually you can add sugar or honey later, but if you're sure everyone wants sugar who's going to drink this batch, there is a nice caramelly flavour if you add it first.

2. As it's heating up and the sugar is beginning to melt, add some spices.

A) Using a masala (mix)- If you buy spice masala at an Indian shop, you should just add a tiny amount like an eighth of a teaspoon the first time you use it. It usually has black pepper in it and can be very potent! You can adjust to taste next time when you are used to your vendor's mix.

B) Using your own spices- I like one or two cardamom pods crushed just enough to expose the seeds, about 5-10 clove buds, a couple of sticks of cinnamon, and a shaving of nutmeg (be careful, not too much of this one or you'll be hallucinating!). Simmer it together for a few minutes.

3. At this point you can put in either 3-4 black teabags (or rooibos bags) or the equivilent of loose tea (i.e. 3-4 teaspoons) and turn the heat right down.

4. When it's looking pretty dark, add the milk to the pot. Usually I make it about 1 part milk to two parts tea, but half and half is luxurious and delicious. If you want to use soymilk DON'T ADD IT NOW as it will separate! Wait until you have strained the tea and just mix it in the cup.

5. Strain the whole lot and serve in cups.

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