Homemade Chai

I awoke this morning to a lovely sunrise over a snow-covered lake. Sounds great, right? Well, it is as long as you are inside. Because of a winter storm warning yesterday, my dog did not get her usual hour long walk around the lake, so I felt obligated to get her out today. The moment I stepped outside, the bitter cold wind hit me like a slap to the face. Wind chill, I thought. I guess I had forgotten (and was happy I had forgotten) what it felt like. With the wind chill today, the thermometer read negative 18 degrees. The dog really needed a walk though, so I trudged out into the snow and down the road, leash in hand. The air was so cold that the moisture from my breath froze into ice on my scarf. Bailey's whiskers and nose were covered with ice. I would have turned around if she had seemed uncomfortable but, other than a small ice chunk that got caught in between her toes, she didn't seem to mind the cold. I, on the other hand, was ready to get back home and get something warm to drink. While I would usually opt for fair-trade coffee or organic green tea, today called for something with warm spices that reminded me of good friends. I needed some homemade chai.

DISCLAIMER: For the purposes of this post, it is important to point out that I did not make the recipe posted below today, because I lacked the fresh ginger needed. Instead, I had Rishi Masala Chai loose tea steeped in milk with a little brown sugar added. However, I have made this recipe many times before and it is phenomenal.

I received this recipe via email a few years ago from my very dear friend Amanda, who was my roommate for two years in college and has been an amazing friend ever since we met. I love chai because it reminds me of cold afternoons in small coffee shops where Amanda and I would sit for hours, her reading about anthropology or botany, and me about international politics or Irish history. It reminds me of snowy afternoons in Shorewood, Wisconsin when Chris and I would leave our tiny apartment and sit at the local cafe, watching the snow fall. Even when I am alone, this drink brings back wonderful memories that comfort, warm, console, and make me smile.

The key to this recipe is having fresh ginger and whole spices, since this is where the chai gets most of its flavor. If you can buy your spices in bulk, I would recommend it since it is less expensive and less impactful on the environment (less packaging). Also, buy more than you'll need for this recipe, so then you'll have the spices on had should you ever want to make homemade chai again (which I hope you do)!

After preparing the spices, they're simmered with black tea, then milk and brown sugar. Once strained, you can have some right away and refrigerate the rest to consume throughout the week. Just a word of caution: make sure the chai is completely cool before you put it in the fridge or whatever you are storing it in (unless it is plastic) will crack and you'll have a big mess on your hands (speaking from experience). The chai tea is delicious hot or cold, so don't hesitate to bring out this recipe on a hot summer day. Most importantly though, share it with friends :)

Homemade Chai

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into thin rounds
2 cinnamon sticks (you can add more for extra flavor, if you prefer)
1 to 1 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods
6 bags organic black tea (preferably Darjeeling)
2 cups milk or soy milk
1/2 c packed golden brown sugar

Using a mallet or the back of a large spoon, lightly crush or braise the spices, including the ginger. Placed the crushed spices in a medium pot. Add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce head to medium-low; partially cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep for 5 minutes. Discard tea bags. Add milk and sugar. Bring to a simmer over high heat, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Strain chai into a teapot. Serve hot or cold.

Note: You can gift chai spices to friends and loved ones for the holidays so they can make their own! Check out these instructions from Yoga Journal.

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