Monday, September 5, 2011

The Perfect Excuse For Chai Tea & How To Make It

Mornings and evenings will be getting a bit cooler now as we draw near to fall. Perfect excuse to make some chai tea. Chai is really just spice tea and there are no rules as to what it must have in it. In India, where its from, it can just be cardamon and black tea with milk and honey. I prefer to leave the black tea out and use herb roots, seeds, barks and spices. The ingredients can be chosen for flavor or for their healing properties.

A little chai history & how it works on our bodies:
Chai gained popularity as it was formulated by Sikh spiritual leader Yogi Bhajan. I learned how to make chai by being a chef for one of the Sikh households that followed his teachings. His version includes black tea, black pepper and cloves among other spices. These are in there, I was told, to stimulate and somewhat agitate the nervous system as the Kundalini yoga we were doing was building it.

Now this stimulation/agitation of the nervous system is fine for the yoga practitioner. For us who have fallen off the kundalini yoga wagon and only do yoga sporadically this combination can make folks a bit 'out of their body', nervous and agitated. So, I generally leave out the black pepper, clove and black tea.

Whole milk, half and half or cream is added to chai to buffer the spices. Bringing milk/cream to a boil in the presence of the spices helps to break down the milk proteins to make them easily digestible. Pure milk is considered 'sattvic' or spiritually pure and coming from the highest vibration which conveys this into our cells. If folks are sensitive to milk, chai spices tend to make it easier to take. Dairy can be replaced with hazelnut milk or oat milk as they are rich enough to be comparable.

Honey is added to the chai after the cooking process is complete. Honey is also considered 'sattvic' and is deeply nourishing. Honey is never cooked as it loses these qualities. We know that honey is loaded with nutrients, some of which are damaged by cooking, but not damaged by being put into the hot tea. The sugars in the honey convert to very simple sugars if cooked and enter the blood too fast, giving a person an odd 'sugar high'. So the honey must be raw and never cooked. If honey is not desired, just leave it out.

"If you cannot see God in All, you cannot see God at all." ~ Yogi Bhjan

In the light of his words I started meddling with his formula.

There are few spices that are also considered 'sattvic': cardamon, cinnamon, coriander, fennel seed, ginger and turmeric. I also found that other roots, barks, seeds, dried hips and berries could be added to the formula to get various health benefits. Burdock for skin health and blood sugar balance, dandelion for liver health and as a very mild blood purifier and laxative, bilberries for eye health, rosehips for their vitamin C and assistance with building healthy connective tissue, etc. And the spices used also have therapeutic uses: cinnamon reduces cholesterol levels and causes our cells to be less insulin resistant, coriander is cooling, ginger a warming circulatory stimulant and anti-inflammatory, fennel seed is a respiratory anti-inflammatory, turmeric is an anti-inflammatory that works so well for arthritis and balances blood sugar levels.

So where's the recipe? You are going to make it yourself! What do you need your 'chai' to do?
Choose from the ingredients I've mentioned, at least 3 of them to make the flavor interesting. Taste each of them first.

You are going to have to find quality spices, roots, barks, berries, etc. First, they must be in a somewhat whole state and not powdered. Powdered spices will make a mucky mess. They must be flavorful, look vital and not gray and have a fragrant aroma. Many sources & suppliers of these roots & spices are poor quality. I sell the top quality in my apothecary. If you are having trouble finding this therapeutic grade, call or email me. I'll send you the good stuff.

Once you know what ingredients you want to use, determine which one is the mildest. You will use more of this. Which one is strongest, you will use less of this. Create a mix of your ingredients to make 1/2 cup measure total. Add this to 1 quart of filtered or quality well water in a stainless steel or glass cooking pot. Stir this, turn the stove heat on high and put the pot on the heat. Bring this mixture to a boil and turn the stove heat down to the lowest, simmer setting and cover the pot. Simmer your ingredients for 40 minutes or up to 1 hour. Turn off the heat and strain the roots & spices away. Pour the liquid back into the pot and turn the heat up high again. Add 1/4 cup whole milk, half & half or cream and stir. Bring this to a boil and remove from the heat immediately.  Allow this to cool just five minutes before adding honey to taste. You may drink this hot or cold. Put this in a teapot to dispense if you drink it hot.  You can reheat it once it is cold by simmering it in a cooking pot on low until just warm. You can also keep it warm by covering the teapot with a tea cozy or by placing the chai into a low-heat crock-pot.

I hope you enjoy this! Tell me how yours turns out, write down your recipe so you can tell me what your ingredients were or know how to change the recipe more to your liking.