Cacao Masala Chai
In the last few years, chai has made a regular reappearance in my life. Most times, I'll make a quick chai with only two spices (cardamom and cloves), but other times, I'll want more depth to my chai. Here’s a recipe for a brisk chai with subtle notes of chocolate.
As a kid, chai was a daily treat for my sister and I growing up in Pakistan. After our parents and grandparents woke up from a late afternoon nap, chai was served to the adults, and my sister and I always managed to get at least half a cup each. As the adults would sit in chairs in the living room to sip their chai and talk, my sister and I would plop down on the floor and cozy up next to the coffee table (or is it a chai table if chai is being served?), which was the perfect height when we were seated on the floor. It also put us in the middle of the action—the adults had to reach around us to get their chai and we got to hear all the gossip.
We loved chai because we turned it into a sweet treat by adding lots of sugar. Dessert before dinner! It was also game time for me. I played the game of dipping biscuits into the chai and figuring out how many times and how deep I could dunk the biscuit into the chai before it would break off and fall into the chai. The biscuits were delicious, and I’m not even sure I drank the chai each time.
When I left my parents’ home in Miami, chai stopped being part of my routine, and coffee took its place. When I visited my parents or family, I'd drink a cup or two of chai if some was already being made for others, but I only occasionally made a cup for myself. I still drink coffee in the mornings because I can grab it on the go. (I’m in search of a chai cart or chai wallah in DC.) But, in the evenings, when I want something warm and need a little caffeine to power me through but not keep me up all night, I've been making chai. I also make chai on weekend mornings when I have time to savor it.
A few words about some of the ingredients.
I prefer using whole spices for chai rather than making a spice blend because I can vary the spices and the amount depending on the taste I want. This recipe uses whole, green cardamom pods, fennel seeds, freshly-sliced ginger, and whole cloves.
Assam tea is a black tea named after the region where it's grown, Assam, India. It’s grown primarily at or near sea level and has a brisk, malty flavor with a strong color.
This recipe calls for natural, unsweetened cacao powder, also known as cocoa powder. Pure, unsweetened cacao powder imparts a bitter taste and a deep chocolate flavor. To get powder from the cacao bean, the nibs are first ground into a paste (chocolate liquor), most of the fat (cacao butter) is removed, and the remaining solids are ground into a fine dust to produce cacao powder. You can also use raw, organic cacao powder, which is found mainly at health food stores. The cacao powder is said to be raw because the cacao beans have been processed only at low temperatures to retain maximum nutrients, and as a result, this powder apparently has higher amounts of magnesium, iron, potassium, and other minerals and antioxidants.
I've used both 2% milk and almond milk in this recipe without having to alter the proportions.
Cacao Masala Chai Recipe
Makes two servings.
1 cup water
1 cup milk
3 green cardamom pods, crushed (To open the pods, take a knife with a large, flat blade, like a chef's knife, place the cardamom pod on a chopping board, and using the heel of your hand, and lightly crush the pod under the flat part of the blade.)
3 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 thin slice of fresh ginger
3 1/2 teaspoons of loose black tea (I prefer Assam)
2 teaspoons natural, unsweetened cacao powder
Sugar or sweetener of your choice
Equipment & Tools
Measuring cup and spoons
Medium size saucepan
Two medium-size mugs
Put all ingredients except tea, cacao powder, and sweetener into saucepan over medium heat.
Bring to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer and add tea. After 4-5 minutes, slowly add the cacao powder into the saucepan as you whisk lightly to keep the cacao powder from clumping.
Strain and pour into cups.
Sweeten to taste.
If you decide to use raw cacao powder, stir it in once the tea is taken off the heat to minimize nutrient loss.