At long last, I’m sharing the recipe for the Best Chai in the Universe! Publicly. It’s never been a great secret, actually, allthough it may seem so since it causes Ooooh and Aaaahs of amazing volume, and poetry of untold proportion.
Do you want to know a secret?
The first product I had planned to make was a chai mix! Before ever making a pancake in my life—let alone a cookie or veggie burger—I had a secret plan to take over all the bad coffee shop chai with a formula that would be REAL chai, and DELICIOUS chai, every time. I tried numerous formulas. I did various things. Oh yeah, I even had a name for it—it was Chaidevi. (Goddess of Chai) But alas. It didn’t work.
The problem? By the time you steam the milk hot enough to get the flavor out of the spices, the milk burns. It tastes scalded and burnt. The end result tastes like scorched milk with a hint of raw, untempered spices. Bleeeeecccchhh! It does NOT work. To become chai, it has to be boiled. There is simply no way to make perfect chai except the old fashioned way. It needs to be made on a stove, in a pot, with the right ingredients in the right proportions, in the right order. Period.
So here goes. I’m giving it to you now. Many have asked for the recipe, and since there’s no “trade secret” to hide that can make it work, I’ve shared it freely. Only a few have been able to replicate it. Most people end up making their own variation. Some aren’t as picky about the quality of ingredients. They don’t pick fresh herbs. Some stinge out on the quality of the milk (must be ORGANIC, WHOLE of course), and others freak out about the cream. Others look at all the milk in the pot and say “but wait, shouldn’t I add more water?"
Before we start, I might as well tell you that it’s ok. You are totally welcome to do with this as you please. After all, if I said otherwise, would you really listen? ;) I thought not!
But wait! There’s more. Another preface actually. When we moved back to the Best Coast in 2014, we stayed with friends in Clayton, while I got a job in Sausalito and Deva started school at Marin Waldorf. Some days commuting was two hours one way! So we changed our plans. While we waited for our house in Lucas Valley to be ready to move into, we camped at China Camp. For a whole month! We have fond memories of going to bed with the sun, waking up with it, eating simple meals cooked over a blazing camp stove, listening to the crickets in the woods, listening to the raccoons rattling around the campground at night and gazing at the twinkling lights across the water filtered through the forest of bay trees. Camping in September in California is one of the most pleasant things you can ever do. It's not too hot, it’s not cold, there’s no dew (no wet tent in the morning) and it’s not even crowded.
When we moved into our house, it was heavenly (that’s why we call it the Nectar Garden!) and since it’s an Eichler, it’s almost like camping at home all the time. The end result is we’ve found our paradise.
So back to the chai. When we moved in the house the first day (on highly auspicious moment of 3:45am one particular Friday morning) we didn’t have much with us, since for the last month we’d been buying and cooking food more or less for a day at a time. So in the new MO, instead of rushing out to buy cardamom and black pepper, I improvised. Isn’t improvisation one of the best catalysts of invention?
I went into the yard to see what was growing there and here’s what I found.
Okay, I lied. The ginger wasn’t actually growing in the yard. But it COULD. Easily. Later I would add other fresh things in season—yerba buena leaves, pink jasmine flowers when in season (yaaaay spring! they’re in bloom now!) and of course bay leaves, which I shared about last week. Choose what edible things you have in your own yard. Oh, and DON’T use white jasmine flowers. They are poisonous. There’s always a caveat isn’t there?
Pick your herbs and EDIBLE flowers.
Rinse and boil them in 1.5 cups water for 30 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on how much time you have, the end flavor you want (deep and full vs light and fresh?) and your own inclination.
Add 1 tablespoon of heavy black tea. Any kind of tippy Assam is ideal. Scottish breakfast is great. Please don't use Earl Grey. Unless you really want that bergamot taste...but IMO it clashes with chai! Ick. My favorite tea blend of late is a teaspoon of Red Label and a bag of Yorkshire Gold. Those are blends. Yes, I know, it's not all tippy Assam. But it's super good. Don't use Oolong or green tea. They are too delicate and don't handle the milk.
Boil the tea. Yes, boil it!! I know you English tea purists are balking and cringing now, but trust me. If you don't like it after you've tried it, do it your own way next time. Boil that tea for 1 minute.
Add 4 tablespoons of organic sugar, maple syrup or jaggery. Jaggery is dried cane juice from India, unprocessed. It has minerals and such, so it's better for you than refined sugar. The sugar will slow the boil. Let it boil fully again, then add about 3 cups of whole, organic milk and a splash of organic cream.
Watch the pot like a hawk. Yes, I know, it never boils. But if you DON'T watch it, it will DEFINITELY boil over! Especially if you are anything like me. ;)
Once the foam starts rising to the top of the pan, remove it from heat immediately. Strain it into your prettiest, fattest, cutest teapot, serve and drink piping hot.
It also goes without saying that you can substitute nondairy milk. I have never tried a dairy sub that I liked in chai. But you are welcome to do that if it works better for you. :)
Here are the visuals step by step: