When I woke this morning (thanks to a noisy duck outside my bedroom window) my first thought was not "Duck! Go back to bed!" (Okay, maybe it was was but it was fleeting.) My first real thought upon waking this morning was one simple word: chai.
Chai is what got me out of bed in the still darkness today. Not the duck.
And a pot of this tea is currently simmering away on my stove making my whole world smell like heaven.
I have been making chai since my best friend's mom taught me how when I was 16. (Thank you, Usha!) Like all good recipes it is a living thing and morphs and shapes and shifts with time. This version is from 2013 and is how I still make it.
Make a habit of a pot of this on your stove each Sunday. You'll be so glad you did!
Some time ago I shared my old nettle chai recipe with you. And really, it's good. So good.
But since that time I have continued to tweak and refine the recipe, week after week.
Like so many things, cooking – and yes, simply making tea – is a living process around here. And where that recipe is at now – well, that old version just can't hold a candle to it.
So I jotted down my latest recipe for you. The changes are minor – just four new ingredients. But to drink it is to love it. As in seriously obsessively love it.
It's crazy good.
This newest incarnation of chai is spicy and sassy and sweet and amazing.
And caffeine-free to boot without feeling like something was forgotten. I loved the nettle version I shared with you before, but it always felt just a little too thin to me. I knew the black tea wasn't there. But this version? You won't even miss it.
That being said, you can also throw in up to six black tea bags to make yours with a caffeinated kick. If I'm jonesing for caffeine I'll often make the whole pot without, then add a single tea bag to my cup. Then the kids can enjoy from the pot and I can have a little jolt at the same time.
What is different from last recipe?
Here are the four magical tweaks:
When I cut out the black tea I really missed the dark richness that it gave. The mouth feel of black tea. And no matter what I added I just couldn't reproduce that. Until I tried rooibos. Rooibos is herbal but has the dark richness and thicker mojo of black tea, without the cranky jitters.
2. Star anise
Lupine would tell you it's cute (always helpful in a spice) and she's working on hot gluing one she swiped from my spice cabinet to a barrette. I'm more interested in the smooth, floral edge it lends. Of all four tweaks this is the most subtle, so if you are out of star anise charge forth without it. I add one to a large pot of chai.
3. Chili powder
Holy molé. I don't know what compelled me to first put chili powder in my tea. (Truly. I have absolutely. No. Idea.)
But since the first morning I did I don't think I've skipped a day. It's surreal how transcendentally good even a humble cup of black or red tea is with a pinch of chili powder. (My standard morning tea is now a cup of black tea with a pinch of ground ginger and a pinch of chili powder.)
And in chai? It's spicy heaven. If you are terrified of spice start slowly but if you are feeling brave add a decent pinch. Good morning!
It's freaking fantastic I tell you.
Do be sure your chili powder is just ground chilies. We don't want salt or funny chili seasoning blend in our tea.
4. Coconut sugar
Oh, coconut sugar. Where have you been all my life?
We long ago gave up refined sugar of all types. (Except that type in that hidden pint of ice cream in the back of the freezer. Shhhh…) When we began to eat more Paleo foods we discovered coconut sugar in lots of recipes.
And unlike agave's tarnished reputation and recent fall from hippie food glory, coconut sugar is clean. We reach for it often because it doesn't jack your blood sugar. (A good thing for lots of health reasons. Please don't bring up that ice cream.) It's also easy on your gut and has a more subtle flavor than honey, maple, or stevia in recipes.
But enough chatter. Let's get on to the recipe, shall we?
Are you ready? Because if you are, know that you'll want this every day. Consider yourself warned.
2 tsp Cardamon seeds or 2 T cardamon pods (ideally crushed with a mortar and pestle but whole works okay too if your lack of a spice grinder would stop you)
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
Scant 1/2 tsp cloves
1" x 2" piece of fresh ginger, sliced thin or smashed with the butt end of a knife handle (or substitute 1 scant tsp dried ginger)
1 star anise
1-2 cinnamon sticks or 1 Tb cinnamon bark chips
1/4 tsp chili powder or 1 small whole dried chile
1/2 cup dried nettle
1/3 cup raspberry leaf
1/4 cup rooibos tea
coconut sugar to taste (1-3 tsp per cup, approximately)
milk of your choice (I use raw cow milk but it's outstanding with homemade coconut-almond milk as well.)
Bring 6 cups water to a boil with the spices. Cover and simmer for 5 to 25 minutes, depending on how spicy you like your chai.
Add nettle, raspberry leaf, and rooibos. (Note: While both nettle and raspberry leaf are safe, healthful herbs, nettle can be a bit drying to your system. In the winter feel free to leave it out if you are feeling dry. I add it because I appreciate the minerals. Listen to your body on this one if you drink it often.)
Remove from heat and steep covered for 15 minutes.
Strain out and compost your herbs. (Or if you simmered your spices for a shorter amount of time, strain out the first batch of chai, then add 4 cups of water to the herbs, simmer covered for 10 minutes, and then remove from heat. Let it steep all day. You'll have a second batch of chai that's almost as good as the first for no additional effort.)
Transfer your chai infusion to a glass jar and store in the fridge for up to a week.
To drink, combine 3 parts chai with 2 parts milk or whatever proportions your palate dictates. Warm and sweeten with coconut sugar to taste (also lovely is half coconut sugar and half honey, or just honey if you don't have coconut sugar on hand).
Drink and enjoy, and wonder how you ever lived a day without this chai.
P.S. Did you know that chai means tea? So if you call your chai "chai tea" you are referring to it as "tea tea". I have few pet peeves. But this is one.
P.P.S. Thank you to my long time sister-friend Ami and her mom for starting this unrelenting chai obsession of mine. I love you. And your chai tea.
Originally published in 2013.