Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Pepper's Perfect Spiced Chai -- CHAI ANOTHER DAY

LESLIE:  I could hardly write a book with “chai” in the title and not share a recipe for your own home brew, now could I?

In writing this book, I read quite a bit about the history of what we in the West call “chai”—“chai tea,” as it’s often called, is a misnomer from the get-go, since “chai” means “tea” in Hindi. The most likely explanation is that British colonials who ran factories in India added sugar and milk—typically buffalo milk—to the mid-day tea to give their works additional calories and energy.

The drink quickly became a staple of Indian life, and has spread throughout the world. The Indians added spices, or masala, which means "spice mix," and developed an astonishing variety of combinations—everything from black pepper to lemon grass. And yes, green tea “chai” is a thing in India, too. As Pepper and I discovered, this is a tradition with more traditions than you could shake a spoon at.

It took me a few tries to get a masala I thought was flavorful enough to taste through a good black tea. In my opinion, this version is nicely balanced, with a tiny bite. Great hot or cold. If you’ve got star anise, add a star or two.

After I wrote this post, I spent a couple of hours on a Saturday in June signing books at World Spice Merchants in Seattle, one of the inspirations for my fictional Seattle Spice shop. The staff served chai made in a French press, with no milk, and it was terrific. I've since tried it at home and it works beautifully. Start with equal amounts of the masala and tea -- say a rounded teaspoon of each in a single serving press -- and let it steep no more than 3-4 minutes; sweeten if you'd like. Adjust the strength to your own taste next time. This version lacks the richness of the flavor-steeped milk, but if you don't drink milk or don't want to stand at the stove and stir, it's an easy substitute.

Pepper’s Perfect Spiced Chai 

1 cup water
4 green cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 slice fresh ginger, roughly an inch across and 1/4" thick; no need to peel it
1 heaping tablespoon loose-leaf black tea, such as Assam or Keemun
1/2 cup milk

honey or turbinado sugar, to taste

In a small saucepan, heat the water, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and ginger. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the tea and boil 3 minutes. Add the milk and bring back to a boil; turn off the heat and allow to steep 2 minutes. Strain into a large mug and sweeten to taste.

To serve iced, strain and pour over ice in a large glass.

Serves one. You can increase the recipe and store in the fridge, covered, 2–3 days; serve cold or reheat.

Pepper and I wish you a long and flavorful life! 

From the cover of CHAI ANOTHER DAY, Spice Shop Mystery #4 (Seventh St. Books, June 2019): 

 Seattle Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece probes murder while juggling a troubled employee, her mother's house hunt, and a fisherman who's set his hook for her.

As owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle's famed Pike Place Market, Pepper Reece is always on the go. Between conjuring up new spice blends and serving iced spice tea to customers looking to beat the summer heat, she finally takes a break for a massage. But the Zen moment is shattered when she overhears an argument in her friend Aimee's vintage home decor shop that ends in murder. 

Wracked by guilt over her failure to intervene, Pepper investigates, only to discover a web of deadly connections that could ensnare a friend - and Pepper herself.

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. Her first historical short story, "All God's Sparrows," won the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story; read it on her website. A past president of Sisters in Crime and a current board member of Mystery Writers of America, she lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat, an avid bird-watcher.

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  1. So, chai tea is "tea tea" like pizza pie is "pie pie."

  2. Wow. I loved learning about chai. I love a wonderful chai latte but could never figure out exactly what it was, lol. Have my copy of the book on my tbr pile.

    1. Thanks, Kay! Enjoy the trip back to Seattle, on the page!