Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Chai masala

Recently I picked up an innocuous-looking little can labeled Tea Masala. I’m a big tea fan, so anything relating to it intrigues me. The tea masala became an impulse purchase. Once I got it home and consulted my small culinary library, I found out it was a spice blend for Indian tea or chai.

There’s been a cold snap recently, so this afternoon seemed like the ideal opportunity to fix some chai. I adapted a recipe from Linda Bladholm’s The Indian Grocery Store Demystified, reworking it to allow for the fact that I only have 1% milk around the house. I may have added too much masala; it was a heaping teaspoon.

What I wound up with was an innocent-looking mug full of what appeared to be very milky tea. One sip, however, made it plain that this was no ordinary tea. The chai has a strong peppery bite that will take some getting used to, but which is not unpleasant. I’ve bought various brands of chai teabags, but this masala is spicier and less sweet than they are. More palm sugar next time may help sweeten it, but there is definitely a different blend of spices involved. The packaged chai teabags go heavy on cinnamon and cloves. This masala (made by Maya) lists black pepper, ginger, green cardamom, nutmeg and mace as the ingredients. I’m a fan of Yogi Tea’s ginger tea (which rivals the sinus-clearing power of wasabi), but Maya’s chai masala ups the ante even further.

Now that I know about the dynamite packed into that little masala tin, I’m starting to think that a thermos of this chai would make the perfect wake-up call for a cold winter birding trip. I know that any real Indian cook would have a homemade chai masala blend, but I’ll have to work up to that after I get a spice grinder. In the meantime, this store-bought chai masala ought to do the job. It’s a bracing treat for a chilly afternoon.

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