HEALTH WARNING – reading this article may leave you with an addiction for the quest of making the finest masala chai – be warned.
A long, long time ago I lived in Peru. One evening at a party whilst discussing the amazing experience of living and working in such a country with other expats; I mentioned that the whole experience could only be improved with a good curry. It just happened that Dave was pretty well versed in this subject and advised that the beauty of such a country even if there isn’t curry houses or pastes and powders is that all of the fresh raw ingredients are available from the local markets. This fact coupled with an authentic recipe book produced by a fine Glasgow Indian Restaurant owner meant that for me Peru was complete. Why hadn’t I thought about this before? A whole new world opened up.
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Moving on a decade or so and I was in Bhutan for the 1st time. One evening after dinner, Trevor threw a curve ball and asked if it was possible to get a masala chai. We all knew that chai is generally a word for tea but masala chai? The masala chai arrived and one sip is all it took. From then on this was my must have evening drink.
Since that 1st experience I have visited Bhutan and India several times and part of that experience for me is masala chai – photos speak a thousand words but tastes and smells are a strong sensory experience that can take you instantly to a point in your memory. I have found a small kiosk in Delhi that sells packets of full leaf masala chai that has helped to feed my addiction to this wonderful drink. Each time that I have travelled through Delhi I have made sure that I have stocked up with supplies of this brown elixir. What a feeling of excitement I have contemplating that 1st brew back in the Highland Glens.
The obvious problem is that eventually you run out and a ticket to India is quite a high cost for a good cup of tea. On the other hand there are other addictions that cost far more in many ways. So I have tried the teabag route. All I can say is that all of the companies producing chai tea bags (that I have tried) are all of an equal standard. Suffice to say I would rather go without. I once took apart one of the tea bags to get a look at the ingredients. It was truly outstanding.
From then I vowed never to purchase masala chai in the teabag format again! I have found a couple of companies that do provide a loose leaf format much the same as my source from Delhi. Even if not quite the same experience they have gone a long way to meet my requirements. Trendy cafés all now sell a chai latte which is nice but flavoured syrup is just that.
Last year I met Trevor again whilst on a Winter Walking trip in Scotland. The evening discussion got on to chai and Trevor dropped the fact that he makes his own masala chai mix. Wow it happened again – why haven’t I thought of this simple solution? I had studied the ingredients out of interest but never gone that step further and mixed my own. Pure genius. The fact is that all of the ingredients are readily available in our supermarkets and health food shops. Masala Chai literally means ‘mixed spice tea’ and getting the proportions right – now that is the magic.
There are hundreds of recipes on the web many of which stray from the real deal. What I have found is that the making of masala chai is much the same as the making of porridge in that each person has their own preferred way of making it and their own individual finishing touches. The beauty of making your own blend is that you can alter and experiment to suit your own taste. But you do need a starting point. So hold on and get ready for the best masala chai experience but remember the health warning at the start.