Chai means, simply, tea in India but what we mean when we speak of chai is, typically, masala chai, black tea with spices, sugar and milk. I’ve been making it at home since the mid-1970s, after I returned from a trip to India, where every day at 4 p.m. chai was served, usually with sweets and sometimes fresh papaya or mango alongside.
I grew to love chai and found it essential once I was back in Sonoma County. It didn’t occur to me to look for pre-made chai and I wouldn’t have found it if it had occurred to me. There was no commercial chai until the late 1980s, when a woman from Sonoma County whose name I no longer recall launched the industry from her new home in either Colorado or Utah. (If you remember her, please leave a comment here.)
Now chai is big business and most people think it must be purchased, not made. There are more than a dozen commercial brands offering scores of chai, from classic to, well, ridiculous. Chai tea latte? Chai cappuccino? Chai frappuccino? Chocolate chai? If you like it, have at it, but don’t think these concoctions are traditional or your only options.
You can make chai at home in minutes and it is just as easy to make a quart or a gallon as it is to make a single cup or two. Homemade chai is always better than commercial chai or it is to my palate, anyway. I also prefer to have control over the ingredients; when you make your own chai, you don’t need to add preservatives, as all commercial brands of prepared chai must have. I also prefer my own spices so that I can create the blend of flavors that I want.We have the best milk in the country here so you can use either Straus or Clover Stornetta organic whole milk, which not only tastes better than other options; it is also the healthiest choice, unless you have access to fresh raw milk. (People in this country have been successfully brainwashed about the so-called health benefits of nonfat and low fat dairy products; Weston A. Price Foundation is an excellent resource if you’d like to disabuse yourself of this notion.)
In a recent Seasonal Pantry, I wrote about chai and included my favorite recipes. You’ll find them all here: