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The chai teas from India are legendary, and the warm aroma of simmering spices will instantly transport you there. Like many great slow-foods, the perfect cup of chai can’t be reduced to an “instant” occurrence. The assembly of essential ingredients (spices, tea, milk and sweetener) just doesn’t lend itself to short-cuts if you want full flavor. The good news is- it’s easy! And doesn’t require a plane ticket.
The first tip for making really tasty chai is starting with whole spices and loose tea. These already have more flavor potential than the powders found in tea bags because when spices and tea are ground up, they lose flavor more quickly. Next, make sure to use boiling water, and a pot or pan that will allow the water to circulate freely around the spices and tea. The boiling water extracts the most flavor from the spices and tea, and the more freely it circulates- the more flavor you get. Using these starting points as a guide- just simmer, steep and strain and you’ll have a great brew. Read on for more particulars….
Classic Indian chai is made with black tea, strong spices, whole milk and LOTS of sweetener. The spices and tea are simmered on the stove top and then strained, and warm milk and sugar are added. This is a great brew, but not my idea of a perfect cup because of the excess of sweet. The reason for the loads of sweet is that when you boil tea it becomes bitter- and the sweetener tones that down. Many chai concentrates are excessively sweet for the same reason.
There are several ways around this but the easiest is to simply brew the spices and tea in stages. Begin by simmering your spices for 3-5 minutes in a small saucepan- this brings out all their glorious flavor- then add the tea and remove the pan from heat and simply allow the tea to steep an additional 3-4 minutes. Strain the brew and add warm milk and sweetener to taste. One convenience we like is to transfer the mixture to a French press pot for the final steeping because it makes the straining easy! How much spice and how much tea? Start with 1-2 teaspoons of spice per cup of water, and 1-2 teaspoons of tea for the second stage. If this sounds strong, remember- you’ll be adding milk as well.
The beauty of this DIY Chai is that you can customize it in so many ways to suit your taste. Traditional chai spices include cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and clove but don’t stop there. We’ve tried everything from star anise and fennel, to coriander and orange peel with great success. The spice possibilities are endless. We keep our bestsellers, Classic Chai and Roast Chai, on hand year round. You can also switch up the proportion of spices and tea to highlight one or the other.
When it comes to selecting a black tea to go into your chai, Assam is our hands-down favorite. The bold flavor stands up well to the spices and makes the perfect base. If you want to try an herbal to avoid caffeine, Rooibos is an excellent choice, too. It also provides a solid base and unlike black teas does not become bitter with longer steeping times, so you can simmer or steep without that bitter edge creeping in.
You’ll also find several varieties to choose from for the last two essential ingredients- milk and sweetener- and let your own preference be your guide. We make our World Spice Classic with whole milk and honey. Whether you like it spicy or sweet, taking the time to make chai fills the house with intoxicating aromas- it’s the quickest trip to India you’ll ever take. Enjoy.
If you’re looking for a tea that isn’t tea, go herbal! All true tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, whereas herbal tisanes, also called herbal teas, are made from all manner of herbs and even spices. From peppermint and chamomile to ginger and cardamom- herbal tisanes offer a caffeine free alternative to black, oolong or green teas.
Whether you are health conscious or just looking for a broader range of flavor, herbal tisanes offer up a satisfying brew. Here are a few options from the World Spice selection.
Emerald Mist is a classic mint tea with licorice and ginger providing a sweet spicy body, perfect for warming up on a cold fall day. Floral Sonnets combines chamomile and other floral flavors with just a hint of spice to adding depth to this relaxing brew, and Copper Lemon combines hibiscus and lemongrass for a vibrant, zingy taste which can be enjoyed either hot or iced.
How to brew the perfect cup:
Use Loose Herbal Tea: Loose herbal teas are the best choice, and since they do not come in tea bags must be strained before drinking. Premium herbs are always reserved for loose tea, and the inferior relegated to the chopping block for bagged tea. You always get the best flavor with loose herbal tea because the water is able to circulate freely, bringing more flavor into your cup. Teapots, infusing mugs and simple strainers are all readily available to make brewing nearly as convenient as bags. This simple strainer is our favorite because it fits in a cup or pot and is easy to clean.
How Much Herbal Tea: The amount of herbal tea you use controls the intensity of flavor in your cup. We recommend beginning with one heaping teaspoon for every six ounces of water. If you prefer a cup that is stronger or more mild, you can adjust the quantity to your liking.
Water Temperature: Always use boiling water to steep herbal tisanes. If your water is below boiling, you won’t get the full flavor in your brew.
Steeping Time: Herbal tisanes are very forgiving, making them easy to brew. We recommend a four to seven minute steep. Since they have such vibrant flavors and lack the tannins that can make a bitter brew, herbal tisanes can be brewed longer without worry.
Milk and Sugar: If you have a sweet tooth. add your preferred sweetener to taste. The vibrant flavors of herbal tisanes pair well with sugar or honey, but easily stand alone. We do not recommend adding milk to herbal brews.
Caffeine Content: If you’re looking to cut caffeine from your cup, you’ve come to the right place. All of our herbal tisanes are completely caffeine free. Elsewhere, watch out for yerba mate tea, which contains caffeine, as well as herbal blends with black or green tea added in.
Herbal tisanes make a great gift and all three of the teas mentioned above are featured in our Herbal Tea Collection. You can discover more about black, green, and oolong tea, or about chai, in our other posts. If you have any questions, please feel free to let us know in the comments.
Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, ceding the top spot only to water, and it’s not hard to see why. There are many delicious varieties of tea, ranging in flavor from the most robust black to the mellowest green. With all that variety it’s easy to find a good reason for a cup of tea, but it’s not always easy to pick the right one.
All tea varieties- black, oolong, green and white- come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, yet vary widely in terms of taste. The differences arise from when the tea is harvested and how the leaves are processed. Here are the primary characteristics, and a few choice examples, of each:
Black: Black teas have a strong, full-bodied taste. Malty, fruity, and smoky flavors predominate these robust teas. Their warmth and body make them perfect for a morning pick-me-up, and they pair well with spices for chai. Black tea has the highest caffeine content of all the tea types.
Kalgar Estate Assam is an exemplary black tea, with a strong malty character and hints of cherry fruitiness. For those seeking a broader range of flavors, Earl Grey is flavored with bergamot oil for a balanced citrus flavor, and Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea which is pine-smoked for a deep smoky aroma and taste.
Oolong: Oolong teas possess some of the most complex and varying flavors of the tea world, and are not unlike wine in their diversity and nuance. Falling into a flavor range between green and black teas, they can be sweet and fruity with honey aromas, woodsy and roasted, or green, fresh and floral in aroma.
Golden Lily falls on the lighter end of the spectrum, with a rich buttery taste featuring notes of honeysuckle and hay. Bai Hao is a darker oolong, and has a spicy, toasty character with hints of fruit. Baked Ti Kuan Yin falls somewhere between the two, and combines a robust, toasty flavor balanced with a lighter sweetness.
Green: Lighter than black teas, with a medium to light body and a clean fresh taste, green teas often present vegetal or floral flavors. Green teas are notably refreshing and energizing in nature and are often the first pick for health conscious consumers. Green teas have less caffeine than black and are high in anti-oxidants.
Yin Hao Jasmine is a green tea scented with jasmine flowers for an intense, but not overpowering, floral character. The nutty flavor of Dragonwell is smooth and toasty, with a bit of sweetness, and Mao Feng has a rich, vegetal taste which softens over multiple steepings.
White: Only harvested from fresh buds in the early spring, our white tea presents a clear, delicate vegetal flavor similar to green tea but even lighter in body and taste. Like green teas, white tea offers a revitalizing lift in the cup.
White Peony presents a gentle grassy flavor, with the subtlest hints of toastiness and melon.
How to Brew the Perfect Cup
Use Loose Leaf Tea: Loose leaf teas are the best choice, and since they do not come in tea bags must be strained before drinking. Premium tea leaves are always reserved for loose tea while the inferior leaves are relegated to the chopping block for bagged tea. You always get the best flavor with loose tea because the water is able to circulate freely around the leaves, bringing more flavor into your cup. Teapots, infusing mugs and simple strainers are all readily available to make brewing nearly as convenient as bags. This simple strainer is our favorite because it fits in a cup or pot and is easy to clean.
How Much Tea: The amount of tea you use controls the intensity of flavor in your cup. We recommend beginning with one teaspoon for every six ounces of water, for all types of tea. If you prefer a cup that is stronger or more mild, you can adjust the quantity of tea to your liking. This is better than steeping longer because a longer steep can add unwelcome bitterness. It is worth noting that adding more tea will also increase the amount of caffeine present in the brew.
Water Temperature: Always use full boiling water for black tea and below boiling for the other types. Green, white and oolong teas should use water ranging from 180 to 200 degrees because using water that is too hot will vaporize the more delicate flavors. Specific suggestions can be found for individual teas on our website, but a degree of imprecision is fine, too- the important bit is “boiling” vs. “jut below boiling.” To get the right temperature you don’t really need a thermometer, just pull the kettle off the heat just prior to boiling. If you’ve let it go a little too long, simply pour the water into the cup or pot before adding the leaves, this will allow it to cool slightly.
Steeping Time: Steeping time is also a consideration in brewing the perfect cup. As tea steeps, it releases tannins which give tea its bitter taste. If tea steeps for too long, the tannins can overpower the other flavors present in the tea, and allow it to become bitter. Conversely, not steeping the tea long enough will weaken the brew. For black tea, we recommend using a three to four minute steeping time. Oolongs and green teas should steep anywhere from one to three minutes, while white teas should steep for only one to two.
Green, white, and oolong tea leaves can often be steeped multiple times, with new flavors emerging each time. Everyone’s tastes are different, so have fun experimenting and find which steeping of your favorite tea you like the best.
While all three T’s (time, temperature, tea to water ratio) should be considered when brewing, any or all of them can be adjusted according to your personal tastes in order to brew the perfect cup of tea for you. That’s it. Go forth and brew. Here are a few final tidbits to leave you with before you go.
Caffeine Content: Generally speaking, black tea has roughly one third the caffeine content of coffee, with oolong, green, and white teas containing less than black.
Milk and Sugar: The rich, malty flavors of black tea pair beautifully with milk or cream and a sweetener, but the delicate flavors of the other varieties will be overpowered by these additions. We recommend against adding milk or sweetener to green, white, and oolong teas.
Other Brews: While these represent the most common and classic types of true tea, Camellia sinensis, there is still more to explore. You can find out more about chai tea and herbal tisanes in our other blog posts.
If you’d like to share your love of tea with someone else, consider gifting our Black Tea Selections gift set featuring Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, and Northwest Tea Time.
Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry is the World Spice Cookbook Club selection for May, and we’ll be serving up his delicious Roselle-Rooibos drink at the Meet & Eat.
From Bryant Terry author of Afro-Vegan: “This drink is tart, sweet, and floral and has become one of my favorite summertime beverages. In this recipe, I call for fresh pineapple to give the drink texture and vibrant tropical flavor, but when my editor, Melissa Moore, brought me a bag of fresh peaches from the farm of Mas Masumoto, I peeled, sliced, and used them in place of the pineapple. It was off the chain! I think any other stone fruit, such as nectarines or cherries, would also work well and I encourage you to experiment with adding them.
For a late fall or winter spin, serve this drink warm, omitting the fresh fruit and boiling the tea and hibiscus with 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves, in a nod to how roselle is prepared in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Afro-Vegan: Farm Fresh African, Caribbean & Southern Flavors Remixed is the May selection for the World Spice Cookbook Club. Afro-Vegan is currently available for purchase at our retail store and also online through the following sellers: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Powells.com, IndieBound.org.
Reprinted with permission from Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry, copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2014 by Paige Green
Give the gift of spices and continue to share the simple joy of flavor with friends and family long after the decorations come down.
- Flavors of the Holy Land gift set, and the
New Persian Kitchen cookbook
- Make Your Own Curry gift set, The Indian Slow Cooker cookbook,
and a Masala Dabba
- Around the World gift set
- Any of our regional gift sets
FOR THE MEATLOVER –
- Big Tubs of Rubs gift set
- Tango Trio gift set and Latin Grilling cookbook
- BBQ Belt: Regional Rubs gift set
with Charred & Scruffed cookbook
- This Little Piggy gift set and a primal cuts pork kitchen towel
- Beefcake gift set with a primal cuts beef kitchen towel
- Marinades, Rubs, Brines, Cures & Glazes cookbook
- Kitchen Aid Spice Grinder
- Atlas Pepper or Salt Mill and a supply of Tellicherry Black Pepper or Himalayan Pink Salt
- Shake and its Ball jar cocktail shaker
- Lark: Cooking Against the Grain cookbook
FOR THE TEA AFICIONADO –
- Little Luxuries gift set featuring four decadent indulgences
- Salt & Pepper Upgrade gift set
- Roast or Sweet Chai Kit
- Cocktail, Recipe or our new favorite Chai Dice
- Scrappys Bitters Sampler pack
- Vanilla Bean Puree or ground Vanilla Bean
Still stuck? Check out our Gift Cards, Gift Cards, and more Gift Cards!
Who says you have to make curry with your curry? No one! This warm winter pudding was inspired by our friends at Hunger Restaurant, and since trying theirs we have come up with some delightful variations of our own. We’ve added diced apples to replace the traditional raisins- pears are nice too- and infused a mild amount of spice into the custard and cream. Enjoy with coffee, chai or your favorite toddy; nothing says holiday like bread pudding.