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.
There exists an old spice merchant proverb dating back to the early 21st century which, roughly translated, advises that “the better the cocktail; the better the party. The better the party; the better the friends.” E’er here to help, we’ve compiled some of our favorite reference materials on the topic. Serve these delicious, humorous, and historical (and of course, spicy!) signature potent potables at your holiday soiree for insurance on a years’ worth of favors from your party-goers.
“Let’s Bring Back; The Cocktail Edition” touts itself as a “compendium of impish, romantic, amusing, and occasionally appalling potations from bygone eras.” The recipes hail from two-hundred year-old sources, right up to the archives of 1950’s iconic restaurant bars. From chuckles to laughs-out-loud, the history and suggestions accompanying each cocktail will have you and your guests tittering for hours, a la, “think only pure thoughts while sipping [The Bishop],” or consume a Scofflaw to give you the courage to “Wear white after Labor Day… Sprinkle Parmesan Cheese on Seafood Pasta… and all sorts of comparable acts of insurrection.”
“Savory Cocktails” is a slender little tome; an ode to all things sour, spicy, herbal, umami, bitter, smoky, high, and strong. These drinks are undeniably sexy – what a modern-day Don Draper might imbibe. They’re interesting and nuanced, and legions away from fru-fru – no neon-hued appletinis here! Sophisticated foodies only need apply. Try a subtle Green Tea Gimlet (I’d pick jade green Mao Feng to offset the lime), or a Dog’s Nose, made with, of all things, powdered porcini mushrooms in combination with porter and shaved nutmeg.
Though we love classic Mulled Wine and Eggnog, there’s so much more to winter-y cocktails than these two standbys. Enter, “Winter Cocktails.” Learn how to give hot chocolate a grown-up twist with lavender flowers and Earl Grey tea, or elevate your ski-lodge lounge with a “Rosy Cheek,” sprinkled with the rosy cheeks of cracked pink peppercorns. In addition to inspired beverages, this book also has a fabulous section on infusing alcohols at home – rose infused gin, anyone? Pair any one of these liquors or cocktails with their suggested finger foods. This is a one-stop-shop for great winter entertaining.
No list of cocktail books would be complete without a mention of the “Drunken Botanist,” shop best-seller and staff favorite since spring. As the name implies, this book unites the best of science and insobriety, leading an alphabetical nature walk from Agave to Strawberry and hitting all the best booze-making plants in between. Learning and jubilating skip hand-in-hand in this volume, the pages dotted with recipes for classic cocktails, as well as tips for updating old favorites in single servings and “pitcher” fulls.
Out of a workshop in Brooklyn comes “Shake,” self-described as “one part instructional recipe book, one part photo journey, and one part inspirational pep talk” for mixing spectacular cocktails at home. The approach is seasonal and straightforward, focused on simplicity, socializing, and, above all, fun! Our copy in the shop comes with the sweetest Mason jar cocktail shaker, pictured on the front of the book, for an automatic out-hipster of just about any one. (Pair with the “Art of Fermentation”- pickle it! for the win.)
It’s always long about this part of October that I find myself finally letting go of the end-o’-summer doldrums, and suddenly excited to break out my wool sweaters and boots, hear that satisfying crunch of frosted grass as I cross my lawn in the morning, and most especially, to curl my fingers around a hot mug of steamy tea that fogs my glasses and fills my nose with its intoxicating aroma. In preparation for that first freeze, we’ve added a bounty of new varieties to the tea section that I’m certain you’ll enjoy– they’ve even enticed me out of my all-day-every-day chai habit! This post, the first of a two-part installment about our updated menu, will cover the darker teas- three black teas, and one phenomenal pu-ehr. Oolong and green tea drinkers, stay tuned for part two!
Dian Hong (Golden Needle):
Though we in the west refer to fully oxidized tea as “black,” referring to how it appears dry, the Chinese call it “red,” for the color of the brew. Dian Hong is a classic Chinese black tea from Yunnan Provence; “Dian” for Yunnan, and “Hong,” meaning “red.” Our variety comes from the large leaf pu-erh tea trees, and is full of enormous golden buds- which to the connoisseur means a sweeter cup with less astringency. After the first steeping, the soup has a bold, rich texture, and flavor like hot chocolate with a bit of a malty tone. Brew each serving of leaves three to four times, and taste as the body gets lighter, but the aroma gets sweeter. I drink this one first thing in the morning, and let it carry me up until noon!
Pu-erh is also produced in the Yunnan province of China, from the same trees that give us the gorgeous Dian Hong. To process these leaves in to pu-ehr, the tea leaves are picked, piled, dampened, and turned periodically for six months to a year to ensure even fermentation. Once the tea is considered ripened, it is dried. The highest quality leaves are left loose, while the rest are graded, then steamed in to a variety of shapes- pressed in to citrus fruits, bricks, or little cakes. This gorgeous loose pu-erh does not need the usual rinse cycle of our tuocha pu-erh. The the earthy, barnyard quality of pu-erh may be an acquired taste, but for me, it’s reminiscent of a clean forest floor after a rain. If you like beets, mushrooms, and figs, chances are, you’ll appreciate this unique flavor. Each steeping of the leaves produces progressively sweeter tea- as many as ten times! This is the tea for rainy Saturday mornings with the crossword.
First Flush Darjeeling:
When talking tea, “flush” refers to the time of harvest. Darjeeling, from West Bengal, India, is harvested five times throughout the year. At “First Flush,” in mid-March, only the new spring growth- one bud and two tiny leaves- are harvested, and minimally processed. The result is heavenly- complex, nuanced, like orange blossoms and sweet grapes. Though it’s sold as a black tea, our rare and prized First Flush Darjeeling has more in common with Chinese oolongs than it does most black teas, with a gentle, light brew that absolutely lives up to its reputation as the “champagne of teas.” This is my two-o’clock tea- my reward for a day two-thirds done! (For a more classic black with the Darjeeling profile, try the Second Flush-harvested in June- a more robust, spicier, darker amber cup- it’s my go-to pairing for that chai I said I was giving up!)
The state of Assam in India is home to rolling, verdant hills, and a venerable tea tradition. Political unrest and poor weather have plagued the area for some time, so procuring an Assam tea that lives up to our exacting standards has been no easy task! Though we’ve always managed to get our hands on a tea that satisfies us, this crop is easily the best we’ve seen in years. The heavy rains of the monsoon season in this region are what give Assam tea its classic “malty” characteristic, and this tea has no shortage of that, but is matched with a unique sweetness, reminiscent of wildflower honey. Its brisk flavor and medium body make it ideal as breakfast tea, though the World Spice team takes it all day long, buoyed by milk and sugar in the British tradition. It’s again, a classic pair with any of our chai masalas.
These teas are a lovely start to embracing the autumn chill, and expanding your horizons beyond your hot beverage rut du jour, whatever it may be. Order a few ounces of a soon-to-be-favorite online, or pay us a visit on a foggy morning for an in-person taste!
The spice shop is a special place for many of us, staff and customers alike. For two decades we’ve swapped stories of favorite recipes and moments shared, but recently we heard a story that touched us like no other.
Meet Pooja, and her groom-to-be, Sanjay. They first found each other on an online dating site, but when discussing a place to meet in person, Sanjay suggested World Spice. On the 15th of January, 2012 the couple met for the first time right here in our shop, and spent the afternoon sharing stories about spices and favored dishes. For the couples’ second date, Pooja prepared a pumpkin coconut curry and Harissa shrimp, and they realized a mutual love of ethnic foods, and big flavors. “We feel lucky to have found each other,” Pooja told us. Fast forward to February of 2013, and the happy couple is preparing to marry, still eating together, and when their busy schedules allow, they’re cooking meals like grilled Tandoori chicken with roasted onions and peppers, and spicy burgers with sweet potato fries.
Herbs and spices are deeply rooted in romantic tradition. Giving gifts of spices for weddings is still very much alive. In modern times, spices can symbolize a fresh start. Pooja and Sanjay are giving away small tins of Indian Garam Masala to the friends and family who are sharing their special day. Congratulations, Pooja and Sanjay, we wish you a long and happy life together, full of love, spice, passion, and good food!
It’s true. We love a good cocktail. There happens to be several hours between Bloody Mary o’clock and Happy Hour, though, and to pass that time in the dog days of summer, I’ve come up with a list of unique and refreshing beverages that should keep you (and I both!) hydrated all summer long. Any one of these could handle a jigger of locally made spirits, too, if you haven’t gotten your fill by five o’clock.
For those mornings when it’s hot by 9:00, or those afternoons when your refresher needs a pick-me-up, my hands down favorite is our High Mountain Keemun. When it’s chilled, it gives the barest hint at the smokiness evident in a hot cup, and progresses quickly to a fruity smoothness that the spice team can’t get enough of. We like it best barely sweetened with agave syrup, and perhaps with a few fresh raspberries or a wedge of perfect Northwest peach thrown in for garnish. Try blending it with lemonade in equal parts for a decadent Arnold Palmer.
Our Moroccan Mint combines earthy Gunpowder green tea with refreshing mint, and it’s a natural to serve chilled. Sweeten with raw or brown sugar for best results- the subtle molasses flavors in these sweeteners bring out the most nuance in the tea. I’ll occasionally muddle a sprig of fresh mint in my glass for a fresh little bite.
Cold Hibiscus tea is a common offering in Mexican and South American homes and from street vendors, but it has yet to attain its’ well-deserved popularity stateside! Tart, floral, and perhaps a little earthy, hibiscus tastes like lemon meets pomegranate meets red berries in the best way. Sweetened to taste and doctored with a few drops of Scrappy’s Lime Bitters, this one’s over the top. Freeze it into popsicles, simmer it with sugar to make a syrup to pour over shaved ice, or just sip it from a frosty mason jar.
The ice cubes are crystal clear, the lemons are poised for action on the kitchen counter, the pitchers are standing at the ready… we’re prepared! Let’s bring on that heat!