Everyone’s drinking Chai lattes nowadays, and many coffee places use that awful powder that tastes exactly the same as every other place. But Chai is deeper and way more soulful than that. It has been drunk in different forms for centuries through many Asian countries. It contains herbs that are commonly used in Chinese herbal medicine, Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) and Western herbal medicine as well. So not only is it a warming and comforting drink, it’s also useful from a medicinal perspective. The TCM actions of many of the herbs in Chai mostly involve building and supporting Yang (the firey, movement-centric aspect of our physiology) and moving Qi (circulating things around the body). Making, drinking and incorporating Chai into your diet is a great thing to do when it’s cold in Winter, and as a general health tonic and preventative, depending on the herbs you choose to add. It’s all very optional. So below, follow your heart and your senses and build your own cup of awesome.
Well, this is the fluid part of the equation. To make your own Chai to your own taste, you only need to assemble the spices you like and add them in the quantities that create a balanced, personalised flavour.
A good, small quantity base recipe starts with the following:
8 tablespoons of either black tea or rooibos (red tea), for a caffeine free option.
1-2 cinnamon quills
10 cardamom pods, broken open (to do this, put them in a mortar & pestle and bash them. The little black seeds will come out of the casings. Add the whole lot for the fullest flavour.)
1/2 teaspoon powdered Allspice (Pimento)
1/2 – 1 star anise flower – (If this is too strong for your taste you can break the star in half, or use 1/2 tb fennel seeds instead, or none at all if you prefer to avoid the aniseed flavour entirely)
1/2 teaspoon of powdered ginger for dry Chai which you can store. If you are planning on drinking it all (eg for a large group of people) you can use around 2cm sliced fresh ginger root.
Options for Wet Ingredients
These will change from person to person, depending on your preference and dietary requirements. Here’s the list:
Raw honey, to taste
Brown sugar, to taste
Almond milk, Cow’s milk, Goat’s milk, Soy Milk, Oat Milk or Rice Milk, or just plain old H20.
- Orange or Mandarin zest, either in one fresh whole piece (a couple of strips with a veggie peeler will do), or dried.
- 3 slices of liquorice root, broken into pieces. This gives added sweetness for those avoiding sugar, but liquorice, oddly enough, does NOT add much of a liquorice taste. In Chinese medicine it’s used in most herbal formulas to reduce toxins, tonify the Spleen (digestion) and harmonise other herbs.
- Beautiful dried rose buds – Mei Gui Hua in TCM language. They give a lightness to the drink and their traditional actions are to move Liver Qi and Calm the Shen so they feel a little bit like a warm hug.
- Turmeric root, freshly sliced or grated, or turmeric powder (quite yellow and a bit curry flavoured.) Turmeric does a lot of things biochemically via its active ingredient, Curcumin. For an extra spicy kick, and to increase its bioavailability by up to 300%, you can add one or two black peppercorns (Liu et al, 2016). Piperine is the active ingredient in these and is a great example of how herbs work together in a synergistic, alchemically balanced way.
- Vanilla bean – My personal favourite. There is nothing like adding fresh vanilla to anything at all. Split the pod from top to tail and scrape the seeds out to use in cakes, then slice the bean thinly and dry it out with a sachet of silica so that you can use it in your Chai. It’s spectacular.
The Blending (this bit is the alchemy)
Ok, so now it’s time to get your Harry Potter on, and make your very own personal potion! The key to a good potion is always *intent*. Try this.
- Place all dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Stir, lift and smell. Breathe in the beautiful combined scent you have just created. Experience it. Be mindful. (Tip: The secret ingredient is love.)
- Place in a jar, in a special place, and seal for later use.
From here you can store it and add the wet ingredients later when you’re making it.
Smell it, feel it between your fingers, and make friends with it. The idea is to create something for yourself that you really enjoy, so if you don’t like it, change it!
The Cooking (this bit is the transformation)
The Taste-test Method
Just use a regular tea pot, adding one teaspoon of your Chai mixture for each person who will be drinking it, and one “for the pot”. For info on etiquitte for drinking tea around the world, go here. Pour on the boiling water and add the wet ingredients (whichever you have chosen). After about 5 minutes, taste the tea and see if you like the taste. Whilst you can’t remove things from the mixture, you sure can add them, so go for it, a bit at a time, until you reach a point where you are completely happy with it.
The Stewing Method
This method is great for when you have large groups of people. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the liquid of your choice, per person, from the wet ingredients list above, in a pot and add the “one for each person, one for the pot” ratio of your Chai mix. Dairy milk isn’t highly recommended as it can create what we call Damp in Chinese medicine, and many people are intolerant to it. Once added, the tea will float, and some of the herbs will as well.
Bring gently to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. If you’re using milk, don’t cover the pot or it may overflow and make a mess. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes. You can keep the pot going as long as you like, provided you top up the liquid to avoid it going dry. You can also add honey to this delicious mix, but people may prefer to add their own.
If you’re feeling lazy or haven’t got time to make your own, there are some amazing varieties of premixed, organic chai on the market, so get your hands on one of those.
If you like the sound of this and would like some sustainable, healthy recipes that fit in with your lifestyle, book in for a consultation at the Daylesford clinic. Depending on your condition, it could be what you are eating that is creating health problems for you. The ancient and legendary physician, Sun Si Miao, said, “Treat the diet first”. TCM rocks. Come in and get some.
Liu, Weidong, Zhai, Yingjie, Heng, Xueyuan, Che, Feng Yuan, Chen, Wenjun, Sun, Dezhong, & Zhai, Guangxi. (2016). Oral bioavailability of curcumin: Problems and advancements. Journal of Drug Targeting, 24(8), 694-702.