Friday, March 06, 2009

Chai Latte

Chai means "tea" to much of the world, but to the English speaking, coffee house frequenting set, Chai has come to mean spiced tea. Enjoyed for centuries in South Asia, Masala Chai is the Hindi term for what is usually black tea with a mixture of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, and nutmeg. Our neighborhood coffee houses along with the corporate chains have all popularized chai with their own version of a "chai latte" or "chai tea latte". Similar to a traditional cafe latte consisting of espresso and steamed milk, a chai latte replaces the espresso with concentrated black tea and spices. Over the past few years, I've managed to try quite a few chai lattes and they range from a spicy, rich, creamy, sweet concoction to what tastes like watery tea with milk.

Chai has also made it onto our grocer's shelves with instant powdered mixes as well as pre-made drinks you just pour and heat or pour over ice for a iced chai latte. I've purchased some of the instant powdered mixes and have used my espresso machine to make freshly frothed milk recreating the rich, creamy coffee house experience to a T for a fraction of the price and in the comfort of my own home, when I want it (often at naptime). In fact, I've seen the coffee houses use some of the same instant powdered mixes. Unfortunately, these mixes include one unacceptable ingredient- non-dairy creamer. The opposite of everything that is good and wholesome, non-dairy creamer is derived from corn and in my opinion, is an unnecessary ingredient in a world with cows. The mixes also contain nonfat dried milk, which allows them to be mixed with water to produce a milk based drink. Neither of these ingredients were necessary for my purposes as I was frothing fresh milk for my chai latte which would give me a milky, creamy latte. I therefore decided to concoct my own mix using instant tea and only the necessary ingredients, none of the fake stuff. I purchased a jar of unsweetened Nestea, sold as an instant iced tea mix, it's only ingredient is tea and it comes in regular or decaffeinated. To tbe instant tea, I added a mixture of sugar and spices, tasting for sweetness and the correct spice balance. The first batch, I found to be a little too strong with cloves, but the second time, I halved the cloves and found it to be exactly what I was shooting for.

Chai Latte Mix
1 cup unsweetened instant tea
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Stir all ingredients together thoroughly and store in an airtight container.
To make a latte, mix 3 spoonfuls (or more or less to taste) of the mix with 8 ounces hot or steamed milk. Enjoy!

Note- If you prefer to use an alternative sweetener like agave syrup or honey, (of course I don't mean a fake chemical one) you could omit the sugar and add your preferred sweetener to taste when you make your latte.

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