Teacup, Digitized Photograph - ©R. Koleilat, 2007
Another idea for a simple, friendly present for the holiday - something you can prepare quickly, but will show that you care. And what is better than a warm cup of tea to share with a friend? How about a cup of Chai, this sweet and fragrant tea specialty from India? You definitely don't want to buy that from a store. For one, prepackaged tea bags are ridiculously overpriced, and they don't hold a candle to freshly made and brewed Chai. I know that because my dear friend Sonia taught me how to make the real thing - and I have been addicted ever since.
Here's what you need - you can get most or all of it from the bulk food store, any Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern food store, or even a good supermarket:
- Pick your gift container first, to determine how much tea you need to fill it with. A plain old glass jar, decorated with a personalized label and some raffia is usually my choice, but you can also fill a bag with the Chai mixture and pop it inside a pretty mug or teapot (2 gifts in one, yay!)
- Loose tea leaves, like Orange Pekoe, or Ceylon, enough to fill your chosen container.
- Loose Earl Grey tea leaves, about 1/4 of the amount of the tea above (you don't have to, since this is not authentic but I found it enhances the taste)
- Spices: I choose to add one stick of cinnamon, 5-6 cardamom pods, 4-5 cloves, a sprinkling of allspice berries and about 1/8 spoon of ginger (this is a very mild-tasting variation enough for about an 12-ounce jar of tea, you can add more spices to your taste)
Mix all of the above in the jar, and add this tea-making how-to:
Fill small pot with 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Spoon in one heaping tablespoon of Chai mixture, and turn off the heat. Let it steep for at least five minutes, and strain into teapot. Add lots of sugar and hot milk, find a comfy spot and enjoy.
Now this is definitely not the authentic method of making Chai - but I'm trying to save you from a caffeine attack! Here's how you can come close to the real deal - a lot more delicious, but too much for me to handle.
Fill small pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat, add a heaping tablespoon of tea, 1/4 stick cinnamon, two cardamom pods, 2 cloves, ginger and allspice to taste (optional), a lot more sugar than you would normally have in one day, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Add very hot milk and simmer a couple of minutes more. Strain and serve. But if you don't sleep for two days after that, don't come knockin' - I did warn you!
(The above quantities assume you are sharing this lovely cuppa with a friend)