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Despite the myths it really does get cold here in North Florida.  So, my little herbal apprentice and I decided that today would be a great day to build a fire and enjoy a nice warm cup of Chai.  The word Chai actually means tea and usually refers to Masala Chai which originated in India and is a combination of aromatic herbs and spices. 

From what I understand there is not a specific recipe for Chai and it varies from family to family and country to country.  Some recipes call for the use of black tea and others for green.  I have a recipe which was passed on to me through my family which includes cinnamon, black and green cardamom, fennel, clove, milk, sugar and black tea.  Most Masala Chai recipes I have seen include cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, ginger, cloves, star anise and black tea.

Each time I make Chai I put a new twist on it by adding various herbs and spices that I might not have added to the previous brew.  The herbs and spices in Chai not only make for a very flavorful tea, but they also have health benefits and are often used for colds, flu and various digestive disturbances. 

Most of the herbs found in a traditional Masala Chai recipe are Carminatives.  Carminatives are herbs which help to relieve flatulence, griping and help to soothe the gut wall.  Some of the other properties associated with these herbs are antispasmodic, expectorant, astringent, analgesic, and antiseptic.

So without further ado here is my standard recipe for Masala Chai:

1 Cinnamon stick

1 or 2 Green cardamom pods

 2  Black cardamom pods

1 tbsp Fennel seed

1 tbsp Anise seed

6 cloves

4 cups of water

Place herbs and spices in boiling water and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.  Strain and serve.  Sweeten to taste with honey.  Serves 4

Now, that is my basic recipe and I am a “pinch and smidge” kinda cook.  I’m notorious for not using a recipe and just winging it.  It certainly makes it more exciting that way.  However, my smidge may vary from yours so you’ll just have to experiment.  Other variations I use include adding Astragalus, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, black tea, milk, burdock root or licorice root.  It really is a matter of preference and what tastes good to you. 

You could begin by using a basic recipe such as:

4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Black tea

Add spices and water to a pan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and allow it to simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.  You can leave it to steep a bit longer if you prefer a stronger tea.  Add milk and sugar and simmer for about 3 minutes.  Add black tea, cover and steep 3 minutes.  Strain and serve.  Serves 4.

The key to Chai is to be creative and use your senses to guide you.  Taste and smell each and every spice allowing you to pick and choose what appeals to you.  Have fun with it and enjoy!

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