Monday, January 7, 2013 in , , , , , , , , ,

Chai - a Beautiful, Homemade, Healthful Brew

I'm as big a fan of drinking herbs as I am of slathering them on my face.  One of the nicest, warmest herbal treats for your tastebuds is a cup of freshly brewed Chai.  Packed with spices it's a healthy, aromatic pick-me-up for your entire body.

Now, if all you've had is those powdered Chai drink mixes from the store then please, I beg you, listen up and put that bagged imitation down.  While recipes authentic to India may be closely guarded there's nothing to stop you from crafting up something incredibly tasty in your own kitchen.
Why fresh spices?
Firstly, fresh is always better.  Period.  I figure you probably already know this at some level.  It's not hard to brew an amazing cup of Chai from fresh, whole spices and quality tea and it's even a fun process to blend it up.

The spices common to Chai have benefits for your body as well as tempting flavor.  Black pepper, ginger, cardamom, fennel, cinnamon... these are warming, clarifying spices that can stimulate your immune system, help with digestion, and give you an energy boost.  Black pepper alone causes your digestion to work more efficiently, has antioxidant and antibacterial properties, and speeds the breakdown of fat cells!  Cardamom is an aphrodisiac and let's just say that even smelling the freshly cracked pods while preparing your tea blend will have you feeling quite delightful.

Only fresh spices are going to offer you any health perks.  A dehydrated, processed drink mix has been stripped of all the immediate power the botanicals originally had.  Not only that but the powdered milk and excess sugar add an extra level of undesirable.  For health and taste fresh brewed is the only way to drink your Chai.

The Lighter Lifestyle
Traditionally Chai is always brewed with milk and sugar.  Since I advocate limiting both these things in your diet there are a few other tweaks to be made to the traditional Chai to make it fit your light lifestyle.

Plant milks are abundantly available at most grocery stores these days, and if you can't access any you can make your own almond milk easy-peasy with a little planning.  Whether you choose rice, coconut, soy, or almond milk you can get a hit of the creamy stuff you crave without extra hormones, cholesterol, and saturated fat.  Which in the end means you can happily drink more Chai. (and you'll want to!)

For sugar or alternative sweeteners I brew with a minimum amount, perhaps just a teaspoonful of sweetener per cup.  You can use less or go without if you are a sugar-free master already. 

Raw honey is my favorite choice for immune support.  All the extra enzymes, pollen and trace nutrients are a great boost for your system during cold and flu season.  Since I sometimes take this with my Echinacea tincture for regular protective benefits it's no big deal to reroute it to a cup of Chai instead.  Honey added during the steeping process will also help draw more flavor out of the spices as well.

If you want ultimate control then just add your choice of sweetener directly to each cup so you know just how much (or little) you are consuming.

Where to Shop
Since spices like cardamom can be kinda pricey at the regular grocery store or hard to find my recommendation is to take a little side trip to your favorite local ethnic grocery store.  Joy!  Delight!  Sensory stimulation!  A trip meandering among odd ingredients never fails to excite me for a day.  Bulk bags of spices that would cost 3 or 4 times as much at American grocery stores is the icing on the cake. 
Being the herb, spice, and tea-aholic that I am I have bags laying about for all sorts of various purposes.  Should any apocalyptic disaster hit I'll have Chai and spices to last several months in, no problem.

If you don't have a funky ethnic grocery store near you then ordering online is the most economical option. 

The Recipe
1 tsp whole or cracked black peppercorns
2 TBSP whole fennel seeds
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp whole cloves
2 whole cinnamon sticks
24 whole green cardamom pods
2 TBSP powdered ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup loose black tea (Assam, Ceylon, or other quality, unflavored black tea)*

*Substitute Rooibos red tea if you would like a fully caffeine free tea

Measure black peppercorns, fennel, coriander, and cloves into blender or food processor.  Pulse several times until spices are broken into large chunks.  Transfer to a bowl.

Put cinnamon sticks into blender and pulse until broken into small pieces.  Transfer to the bowl with other spices.

Put whole cardamom pods in blender and pulse several times to break pods open.  Transfer to the mixing bowl.

Add ginger, nutmeg, and tea and stir thoroughly.  By this time your nose should be buzzing and your mood should be lifted!  Transfer to a tin for storage. 

To Brew
1 cup water
1/2 cup plant milk of your choice (1/4 cup if you enjoy less creaminess)
1 TBSP chai spiced tea in tea ball or strainer
2 slices fresh ginger root (optional but a tasty addition)
Sweetener of your choice, Stevia, or skip it!

Boil water and add tea in the tea ball or strainer and your fresh ginger slices.  Remove from heat and steep for 5 minutes.  Add your plant milk and reheat until piping hot.  Pour into a cup and sweeten to taste as desired.

Drink to your health and beauty!  
Ciao (or should I say Chai) for now.  *wink* 

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