This post began as a challenge from my womenfolk that came about during a visit to a new Indian restaurant in town.
I ordered the house chai masala with my meal. Mrs. Teaist asked for a taste. “Ooooh“, she said, clearly impressed.
That prompted Teaist Junior to demand a sip. “Ooooh“, she said.
“Why isn’t the chai you make at home this good?”, they asked, in a manner that clearly indicated that they now expected me to reproduce the flavour in my cup in the safety and comfort of our own kitchen.
My first port of call reference wise would be “Indiska Kokboken“, or “The Indian Cookbook” in English.
This is a collection of recipes adapted for the Swedish household that was sold in the late 1990s by retail chain Indiska. Mumtaz Khan, owner of the legendary “Mumtaz Paan House” in Bradford, Yorkshire, acted as technical advisor for the book. Over the years we’ve tried almost all of the recipes, but not the one for Chai Masala, and enjoyed them tremendously, so I had high hopes for Mumtaz’s version of this classic beverage.
Mumtaz’s recipe called for Ceylon tea as a base. No problem there – I would use our old favourite Emona brand.
Apart from tea and water, I was going to need milk, sugar, whole green cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks.
I opted to make the chai in my old stainless steel cafe teapot that makes a splendid kettle when placed on an induction hob. This would be perfect for the low simmering the recipe called for.
My initial attempt would follow a version of the standard Mumtaz 1 litre recipe scaled down for the smaller, 500 ml useable volume of the cafe teapot, namely 500 ml water, 6 teaspoons tea, 3 whole but lightly crushed cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 dl milk, and 4 tsp sugar.
The method was fairly simple – bring the tea water up to the boil, then put in the tea, sugar, 6 lightly crushed whole green cardamom pods, and the cinnamon stick. Return to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Put in the 4 dl of milk, bring back to boil, then drop to a low simmer for 10 minutes. The plan was then to strain the finished chai into a second, pre-warmed pot for serving.
Our verdict on this first attempt was that it was on the right track, but that we still had a bit of work to do to get it spot on. More specifically, it felt as though this version was a bit too milky and a bit underspiced.
I decided that for the Mark II version I would cut the amount of milk down to just 1 dl, and up the amount of spices to 6 cardamom pods, and 3 cinnamon sticks. I’d realised that the cinnamon sticks I was using were a bit on the short side – about 6 cm in length – and that I’d probably be much better off using three of them instead.
I also decided at the last minute to throw in a thumb-end sized piece of fresh root ginger, which I peeled and thinly sliced.
My intention was to follow a slightly modified method, but a planning hitch meant that it was more modified than intended.
The idea was to put the spices into the kettle, and heat it up slowly to give them more time to infuse into the tea water. It was only when I checked on the milk situation that I found out that we had none in the fridge. By this time the water was coming up to the boil, so I turned off the hob, and popped out to the local supermarket for additional supplies. This meant that the spices sat for about 20 minutes or so in the hot tea water before I picked up where I’d left off.
Well, I can happily report that this version was a resounding success! Mrs. Teaist proclaimed it the bestest chai masala she had ever tasted.
“It’s really just your old recipe minus the cloves and with milk and sugar added, when you think about it”, she correctly observed.
“Indeed”, I replied, refilling our cups, and by the time we had drained them we had decided that i) this should now be our official family chai masala recipe, and ii) we should drink a great deal more of it.
This is an excellent film, and well worth tracking down. Highly recommended.