It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. This morning there was mist rising from the river, wild geese were flying overhead, some headed for the South, others for local feeding grounds, i.e. farmers' cornfields. It's that time of year between harvest and snowfall when the leaves are gone, the weeds have died down and the “bones” of the land can be seen – the hidden swales and valleys, the smaller hillocks, the old trails you might walk on a good day such as this.
It is a time to think about cozy things, like spicy teas. Yesterday I panned a so-called chai, today I will praise one. I love spicy things and I especially love Indian food and drink. To me it so exotic, so complex that it is enthralling. I love their art, which is complex down to the smallest detail. I love the color and pattern of their saris.
I have noticed that our local grocers have begun carrying various types of chai. That is, spiced tea. Chai is the most recognizable Indian word for tea, so if you ask for “Chai tea” you are really asking for “tea tea”. It would correctly be called masala chai. Masala basically means mixture, usually of spices. However, for the vast majority of us, chai is used to denote this type of tea accented by certain spices. I have begun to collect various chai varieties, in hopes of finding a “regular”. I may have done that. I am a traditionalist in some ways. I want my chai to have Indian spices and remind me of the chai I have had with friends or in my favorite restaurants. I don't want a lot of added flavors and fruits. Even green tea seems too far from the original to be allowed, although Rooibos or some other caffeine free herb or tea may be acceptable, although I probably wouldn't drink it.
Indians, on the whole do not drink their most wonderful teas – they export them so the likes of you and me can enjoy them. Their masala chai is made from very ordinary tea bag tea or inexpensive CTC tea. I have read a lot of their recipes for masala chai which contain a number of spices, the most common being ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper and sometimes star anise. I am pleased to report that Tazo's Organic Chai contains them all, as well as black tea. That's it, tea and spices.
The teabags are wrapped individually and as you unwrap them, you are surrounded by their heady spicy scent. As you brew the tea with boiling water for 5minutes, the kitchen fills with it. My first sip of the plain tea is a bit of a disappointment, as the taste is a bit thin. Ah, wait a moment, chai needs milk, it needs sugar. I pour and stir and sip. Yes indeed, masala chai as the chai wallahs and my friend Raj intended, rich and full of depth, with a little zing of pepper to liven the tongue, and warm my tum. Not too spicy, not too weak, but all in balance and just right.