History of Chai Tea
First things first, let’s talk about the origins of chai. While most of us in the western world may associate “chai” with the spicy, warming black tea drink, chai -- even just the word itself! -- has a much richer history. The word “chai” is actually the Hindi word for “tea,” which was derived from “cha,” the Chinese word for tea. So while we may often be expecting a very specific flavor profile from the chai we order in the western world, to the world at large, it may sound as though you’re simply ordering a cup of, well... tea!
While iterations of chai may vary all across the world, today we’ll be talking about the flavor profile that most of us have come to know and love. Traditionally, you’ll find spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, black peppercorns, and even anise seed mixed into a strong black tea. Unfortunately, most cafes serving chai typically use a syrup, or even powdered mix, to produce an easily-made chai latte. While this may seem simple, concocting an authentic-tasting cup at home is even easier than pouring a sugary syrup into your cup (and tastier -- and less sugary, too!).
Today, we’re going to discuss strong how to make a good chai tea at home, from making your own concentrate all the way to finding your perfect loose leaf blend for a simple and easy brew.
How To Make A Chai Tea Concentrate
For those of you who’ve been used to purchasing chai concentrates in a box, transitioning to loose leaf right off the bat may produce a different flavor or intensity of flavors than you’re used to. The good news? Creating your own chai concentrate at home couldn’t be easier! Follow the recipe below, and simply heat it up at equal parts concentrate to milk of your choice, and you’ll have a delicious beverage that has you wondering why you’ve ever paid more than a few pennies for a chai latte outside the comfort of your own home.
Just-Like-the-Cafe Chai Latte Concentrate
- 12 cardamom pods, gently crushed
- 8 whole black peppercorns
- 8 whole cloves
- 4-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
- 4 cups water
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 3 whole allspice (optional)
- 2 tablespoons honey, brown sugar or maple syrup (optional)
- 2 star anise
- 1 vanilla bean, sliced down the middle
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 5 black tea bags
Bring all ingredients, save for the tea bags, to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add in your tea bags, and steep mixture for 5 more minutes.
Let mixture cool, then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a sealable container. Store refrigerated for up to a week.
If you’re more of a loose-leaf purist, the good news is there there are great options as well to help you make a good chai tea at home. A classic chai with buttery vanilla spices blends beautifully with milk or brewed black, while a nutty chai is often excellent with a touch of sweetener added (we like honey, maple, and agave syrup best!).
If a traditional black-tea-based chai is often too strong for you, why not try a blend that’s balanced with other flavors, like rose or a caramelly mate?
Additions to Chai Tea
If you’re making a chai at home from loose leaves, you’ll have even more opportunities to customize the flavors to your liking. Options like adding sweetener abound (see above for my favorites, though you’re certainly not limited to those alone). On top of that, you have the choice to pour your milk straight in or foam it up nicely to replicate the lattes you may be used to. For a few more tips, check out this previous article on making a chai tea latte.
There are a few favorite methods for foaming milk at home. Whether you choose to shake it up in a mason jar (easy, and free!), use a stick frother, or our collective favorite pitcher frother, you’ve got a plethora of options. Find more details on tea latte brewing here.
No matter how you choose to go about it, there’s no doubt that brewing your own chai at home couldn’t be simpler. Empower yourself as a tea drinker, and know that often, the very best cuppa is the one you make yourself!