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ChaiChai ultimately from the Chinese word chá is the word for tea generally in Asia, North and East Africa and Eastern Europe. Cognates in other languages include the Bengali cha-, the Marathi chaha- and the Tamil thaeneer. For the etymology of chai and related words see etymology and cognates of tea.
In a typical South Asian household, chai is prepared by boiling loose leaf tea in a pot with milk and water. Depending on personal preference, various spices and/or sweetener may also be added at this stage. What many English speakers tend to think of as chai is, therefore, more strictly known as masala chai. Indian markets all over the world sell various brands of "chai masala,"tea spice" ), though many households blend their own.
In India and Pakistan, chai is more popular than coffee, and street vendors called "chai wallahs" (sometimes spelled "chaiwalas") are a common sight in many Indian and Pakistani neighborhoods. It is also popular in Irani cafés.
PreparationThere is no fixed recipe or preparation method for masala chai and many families have their own special versions of the tea. The key to making good tea is to leave the tea leaves (or tea dust) in the hot/boiling water long enough to get the flavor of the tea but not too long. Excessive exposure of tea to heat will release the bitter tannins in the tea leaves. Because of the huge range of possible variations, masala chai can be considered a class of tea rather than a specific kind. But all masala chai has the following four basic components:
* Tea: The base tea is usually a strong black tea, such as Assam, so that the various spices and sweeteners do not overpower it. CTC-grade teas are often used, as they infuse quickly and strongly. However, a wide variety of teas can be and are used to make chai. Most chai in India proper is brewed with strong black tea, but Kashmiri chai is brewed with gunpowder tea. Sometimes the drink is prepared with tisanes such as rooibos, and even with the South American beverage yerba mate, though these innovations are entirely Western.
* Sweetener: Plain white sugar is sufficient. A surprisingly large quantity of sugar is required to bring out the flavor of the spices; one recipe uses three tablespoons of sugar in 3.5 cups of chai.
* Milk: or other such creamers. Usually, whole milk is used for its richness, but any milkfat concentration or non-dairy milk (soy, rice, etc) will do. Generally, masala chai is made by having 1/4 to 1/2 parts milk mixed with water and then heated close to or to boiling temperature. In Western countries, eggnog is sometimes used in chai during the holiday season.
* Spices: Traditionally, Masala Chai is a bracing, strongly spiced beverage brewed with so-called "warm" spices. Most masala chai incorporates one or more of the following: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, peppercorn, and cloves. Other possible ingredients include nutmeg, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, licorice or saffron. Chai tea almost always has cardamom in it as it would be hard to classify a tea as being chai without it. For example, cinnamon (ex. cinnamon/apple tea), vanilla (ex. tea with vanilla extract or flavor), or star anise (ex. thai tea alone) would not make the tea a "chai tea" as a there has to make something specific to make a tea qualify as chai. If the tea doesn't have cardamom in it, then it would have to use common Indian spices for it to be classified as chai. For instance, ginger, black pepper, and especially cloves are used in Indian masala mixtures and cuisine. Having ginger or black pepper is considered important as it gives chai that slightly hot flavor. In India, for example, fresh ginger is usually used Chai recipe.
Chai can be prepared in many ways. The most common way is to boil water with the sugar and spices, add tea and milk/creamer and then proceed to simmer it for a few minutes. It is then strained and served.
The green tea-based Kashmiri version of chai is brewed with almonds, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, and sometimes saffron. Many Western commercial preparations such as Oregon Chai are strongly flavored with vanilla and honey, with other flavors far less dominant. This results in a far mellower, "cozier" beverage than most Indian masala chais, with a markedly different flavor. As vanilla/chocolate is generally not used in authentic chai, some brands such as Tazo mix vanilla and anise for example with classic Indian spices to make chai.
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