Monday, February 9, 2009

hindustani chai

This post is for our relatives who received tools and ingredients (but not directions) for making Hindustani Chai. This recipe is, like most of my attempts to articulate what I have learned in India, confoundingly complex, badly conceived and pitifully articulated, besides being imprecise. So if you enjoy that type of recipe, read on...

Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Tea Leaves, Milk, Cardamom, Cloves, Ginger, Cinnamon.

First, the term Hindustani Chai is used to refer to a variety of concoctions that are very flexible with the spices. I have been served chai with garlic, and a different time with anise. Tradition classifies spices according to those which give warmth to the body and those which cool. The spices in chai are therefore subject to change throughout the year, as you would not consume a cooling spice in winter or a warming spice in summer. That said, we Burchells enjoy the following recipe all year round.

Cardamom is available here in little green pods which should be crushed. We use five pods for a pot of chai for our family (about 1 liter), but more if we make a large pot. If the cardamom pods are not crushed well, they will close up again when they are boiled and less flavor will be derived. Heh... derived.

Cloves should also be crushed. Cloves can have a tingly numbing effect on the mouth which I find enjoyable. Sometimes I suck on a clove while I make chai. Maybe I should not be admitting to this. Joie does not like it as much, so we generally use only five or six cloves.

Ginger should be available everywhere. We use a piece about the size of an adult big toe. Prior to writing these directions, I did not think of it in those terms. It does seem a bit morbid. We scrape the skin off the ginger before crushing it.

Cinnamon is cheaply available here, so we use plenty of it, probably about the equivalent to two of the scrolly looking sticks that sell in other hemispheres. Ours is more recognizably tree bark. If it is crushed well or boiled longer, less cinnamon could do nicely.

The spices should be crushed and put into about a liter of boiling water. This should simmer on the stove for five or ten minutes. It should smell amazing at this point.

Scraping the ginger:

Crushing the ginger:

Even Will can do it...

The boiling water and spices should look about like this:
After the spices have simmered, put about 1/3 cup of sugar into the pot and stir it so it dissolves. It will dissolve quickly, probably before you finish wondering how much of that sugar you are about to consume.

We put about four teaspoons of strong black tea leaves into the pot after the spices have simmered and the sugar has been added. The water might foam up if the flame is too high, so you should stir the tea in, making sure it does not stick to the sides uselessly.
After the tea, we add the milk. I like to give the tea a couple of minutes to brew because I imagine the milk slows that down. The milk we use is a bit more than two-percent. It is also buffalo milk. Add milk until it is creamy. The chai is now complete. I leave it on the stove for another minute or so to heat it up after adding the milk, but take care not to let it boil again after the milk has been added. Boiling the milk will make the chai stick tenaciously to the pan and the cups, and it will cause your chai to grow one of those nasty milk skins on the surface that sticks to your upper lip when you try to take your first sip. Don't boil it. The local chai is usually boiled, and I suppose that one could come to appreciate the skin.

This recipe is easily varied to taste.

When the chai is done, pour it through a sieve into cups that need not look like rhinos. The chai will become bitter if the tea leaves are left in it for too long. If you want to save chai, strain it.


  1. the kind of recipe i can follow! thanks for writing this up, nate... each time i'd notice our tools and spices on the pantry shelf, i'd remember i needed to ask you for the directions, since i wasn't paying attention the first time... but, by the time i'd get to the computer i'd have forgotten. chai would be nice on this damp, cold evening... hugs to you! mom

  2. And I thought we had it bad having to grind our own cloves in Poland. :-)
    Do you want us to send you any spice jars?
    -Cousin in Law David

  3. Looks pretty authentic (deshi) to me. Will try it soon.

  4. Thanks for posting this, Nate! We made chai this weekend and it was wonderful, had enough for a second cup the next day too.

  5. Well i am finally going to try to make this stuff.. hopefully i can make it taste somewhat close to what it should!! Thanks for the recipe.. KC gave me and Codi the link!! Hello to you all!!!