I was first introduced to chai many years ago during a visit to Berlin with one of my best friends. She brought me to this Indian restaurant that she had frequented years before and which still existed. I didn’t know much, if anything, about the flavors of Indian food at this point. And I don’t remember what we ate that night, only that I was absolutely charmed by the warmth of the restaurant and the spices, and that we drank this wonderful tea, that was warm, milky, sweet and wonderfully imbued with fragrances I couldn’t recognize.
While I was studying for my bachelor in linguistics, I traveled to India and Nepal. Besides beautiful hikes, amazing cites and meeting wonderful people, I got acquainted with many types of food.
At this point, I knew enough about Indian food to make eating a priority wherever I went, and I tried a variety of foods from daal to palak paneer, to dosas with sambhar, to parathas, to chutneys, to jalebis.
But one thing that was constant was the availability everywhere of cups of the best chai I ever had. Although I now recognize the spices that are used in this tea, I still haven’t been able to replicate the perfect balance of the cups of chai I bought from vendors in the trains, in the restaurants, and on the streets of Varanasi, Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram, and in between.
But every once in a while, I still try.
Cardamom, black pepper, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon, black tea, milk, sometimes ginger, and almost always honey find their way into my pots of chai. And it’s good, it really is.
It’s just not how I remember it.
So if you have a superb recipe for chai, please send it along!