Tea for two at the top of the world: Chai
There is something about standing at the top of the world that takes your breath away. Maybe it’s the elevation. At 17,000 feet and some change, there’s not a lot of oxygen in the air, particularly if you’re used to living at sea level, like I am.
Or, it could be the view. Not many people are lucky enough to have the opportunity I had: to look the Goddess Mother of the World, Mt. Everest, square in the face. Yet that’s exactly what Big Papa and I did when we visited Tibet in 2008.
Temperatures were in the teens, and there was nothing between us and the mountain of all mountains, except an open plain and a fierce wind. Being in Tibet, and seeing Mt. Everest, was unforgettable.
And so was the tea. Back at the Everest Hotel, we headed for the sole dining room and ordered up a big pot of chai. Sensuous aromas of cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger and pepper filled the air. I will never forget my first sip: warmth soothed my cold throat and the flavors were simply irresistible. Big Papa and I joyfully drank the entire pot with ease.
In much of the world, including Asia, Eastern Europe, parts of Africa and Brazil, “chai” means tea. Chai tea, frequently called “Masala Chai,” is an aromatic blend of black or green tea infused with warming spices and typically served with sugar and milk.
If you travel to India, Nepal and Tibet, where chai originated, you’ll likely see vendors peddling the tasty brew on street corners or at train stations. According to Ayurvedic tradition, chai boosts the immune system, enhances metabolism, relieves stress, aids digestion and sharpens the mind. Never mind that it’s also out-of-this-world delicious.
You can find hundreds of chai recipes associated with different locales, restaurants and even families. Preparation methods vary, too—some aficionados insist on boiling the tea, spices and milk together, while others take a gentler approach, briefly steeping the tea leaves and spices in hot water, then adding hot milk and sweetener last.
I still drink chai, though I’ve never had a cup that was as good as the chai we drank while traveling in Tibet. The Goddess Mother of the World had a way with tea. She worked her magic on our chai…and on us.
• 1½ cups cold water
• One 2-inch piece cinnamon stick, broken
• 2 heaping teaspoons black tea
• Seed of 3 cardamom pods
• One ¼-inch-thick slice fresh ginger
• 3 whole cloves
• 2 black peppercorns
• ¼ to ½ cup milk
• 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1. Bring water to a boil in small saucepan. Add cinnamon, cover, remove from heat; steep 2 minutes. Return pan to heat; bring to a boil. Add tea, spices, milk and sugar; cover, and remove from heat. Steep 3 minutes.
2. Pour mixture through fine wire-mesh strainer into warm teapot, discarding solids.
Note: If you prefer, omit the milk and sugar and offer them separately. You can also experiment by adding fennel seeds, coriander seeds, nutmeg, star anise, and lemon or orange peel to create your own unique chai blend.
Want to take your breath away with more deliciousness? Check out Wanderfood Wednesday!