Iced chai latte makes for an excellent summer drink. Photo: Danya Dhanak
Chai is a universal elixir here in India. Most people I know need their tea at least once, if not several times a day. The base of a chai – black tea leaves flavoured with spices – is unanimously loved but of course, the amount of milk and sugar is a personal choice.
I laugh as I think about the associations I’ve had with chai around the world. This past winter, I learned of an ever-popular tea stall affectionately referred to as Share Market Chaiwala in Kolkata. From local workers to Calcutta’s wealthiest, many frequent the stall near Calcutta Stock Exchange. To add to that, it was the latest food stall on feature at every winter wedding worth its Sabyasachi outfits. The traditional Share Market Chai is pungent with ginger and cardamom. They also serve a premium second kind of chai:kesar chai with the addition of saffron. People love the warm, spicy aroma of piping hot tea infused with the earthiness of the cup it is served in. Plus of course, the complement of toast: farm bread topped with malai and sugar, or buttered with salt and pepper.
About 10 years ago across the world in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I studied, I discovered the so-called iced chai latte. The corner coffee shop Espresso Royale (a Midwest American favourite) had a blend of chai that they served in a hot as well as iced form. I was pleasantly surprised at the Indian flavours in their chai concentrate, only slightly adapted to the American palate with the addition of vanilla. Over the years, I began to notice a phenomenon. Around mid-April, when the trees grew back flowers and some semblance of green, most people replaced their cup of cappuccino or hot tea with a cup of iced chai or coffee (always filled to the top with ice).
I’ve learned over the years that what makes any cup of chai so special is the spices. A real chai spice mix, made with whole green cardamom, cloves, black pepper, sticks of cinnamon and star anise, beats those readymade packets and artificially flavoured teabags any day.
This five-minute recipe for chai masala will brighten your morning (or afternoon) with its heady scent. Plus, find a way to beat the summer heat with this quick and easy how-to for an iced chai latte that is light, refreshing and sweet with spice. It might just replace your mid-morning or afternoon cup of hot tea!
An array of spices ready to be infused with chai. Photo: Danya Dhanak
Recipe for Chai Spice Mix
1 part cinnamon
1 part star anise
1 part cloves
1 part cardamom
1 part black pepper
Grind to the consistency of a fine powder in a mixer or using a mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight container.
For each cup of tea, use ¾ tsp of the spice mix.
You can store this powder in an airtight container in your kitchen cabinet for weeks.
Tip: For extra zest, add in vanilla powder or freshly grated ginger when making your chai.
How To Make Iced Chai Latte:
1. To 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water, add 1 heaped tsp tea leaves or tea bag (any neutral black tea) and 3/4 tsp of the chai spice mix.
2. Boil for five minutes.
3. Remove from heat, strain and continually transfer the tea from one vessel to another to cool it down.
4. When cooled, add milk as desired and froth the milk tea mixture using a hand mixer.
5. Add ice and serve immediately.
This recipe serves one; increase the amount of water, tea and spice mix according to the ratio to make this for several people.
The author recently moved back to India after studying at the University of Michigan following a job as an investment bank in New York. She shares recipes and travel tips on her blog The India Edition.