I have a confession. I’m not a coffee drinker. It’s not due to any suspicious beliefs, fears or caffeine aversions. It’s simpler than all that: I just never acquired a taste for it. I don’t like it. And I don’t like coffee ice cream, mocha, or cute recipe concoctions that put espresso dust on a pizza or a crab cake. Yes, I fully understand this puts me in a hugely distinct minority on the planet. But I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve even lived with the mortified looks and Elvis-inspired sneers of Italian and French waiters when I’ve ask for a cup of tea.
When I do drink tea, I also get the universal disapproval of many of my English relatives (and, I’m sure, my ancestors too) for drinking my tea not with milk, but black with lemon, and no sugar (gasp!). In other words, coffee and tea drinkers are less than impressed with my beverage choices.
Which brings us to Chai, or Masala Chai, as it’s often called. In theory, it’s not a drink that would fit my profile of a nice cup of tea. It’s spicy. It’s sweet. And it has milk. But I love it. And it’s easy to make, too.
Chai is originally from India, and made its way around the world to the point where you can now buy it at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s spices usually include cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and often ginger. I’d buy it as a change of pace, but never had my socks knocked off until I went to Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters in Hadley, MA with my chai-addicted and bike riding friend, Eric Heller. This was the spiciest chai I’d ever had, but not so spicy that it hurt my head. It was just perfectly balanced, between spicy and sweet.
This convinced me that I had to start making my own chai. Eric’s wife, Yehudit, sent me her recipe, with notes from her ongoing chai experiments. So I started tinkering with it. And here it is.
But the big secret to making chai is that there is no secret, and no single recipe that’s considered the standard, or even the best. If you ask 10 people for their favorite chai recipe, you’ll get 14 recipes. Yes, some people do make different recipes for different times of day.
So try it. It’s fast, less than 10 minutes, and easy. And the ingredients that you buy for it will last for ages as you tweak your own favorite chai recipe. Give it a try. You might even like it more than coffee. Okay, maybe not that much. But almost.