I can weave the story of chai through much of my life, a flavor that has reappeared in new ways every few years as I've grown older. In high school, before the magic of coffee entered my life, sweet chai concentrate from the box was definitely my number one source of caffeine. In college, after traveling to India with a Tibetan Buddhism class and drinking chai day in and day out, I regularly made the simplest form of chai - sweetened milky black tea steeped with cardamom - just as the sweet man in a little hole in the wall chai shop taught me.
These days, I am entering a new realm of chai which involves my own homemade version of that stickily sweet boxed chai concentrate - packed with ginger and cardamom, and only lightly sweetened! Having this simple 30 minute chai concentrate in the fridge means that chai is always one quick step away, and for that I'll never be sorry. Daylight savings time has arrived, meaning it got dark before 5pm today... warming my world with a little chai seems like the perfect way to welcome the quickly approaching winter season.
So this Sunday morning, my sweetie and I sat down to big old mugs of warm chai (and I recruited him to be my model - he's hardly ever home when I'm shooting recipes, and it's so nice to have someone in the images!). This time around, we used homemade hazelnut milk made with hazelnuts from the sweet vendors at our neighborhood farmers market. If you haven't ever made your own nut milk before, it is incredibly easy! Just blend the nuts of your choice with some water and strain through a nut milk bag or a fine dishtowel. Search online to get the best ratios for each nut, though in my experience winging it usually works!
The best thing about making your own chai concentrate? You can personalize it to your tastes! Consider this recipe a blueprint - somewhere to start. The spices can be altered to suit your tastes, and the sugar can be adjusted to your preferred sweetness level!
Making the Concentrate:
5 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
3in piece of ginger, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp cardamom seeds (more if you're using pods)
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp whole cloves
3 whole star anise
1 tsp whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
5 bags / 2 Tbsp black tea
2 tsp vanilla
- Combine water, sugar, and spices (everything but the tea!) in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Add tea and let steep off of the heat for about 8 minutes.
- Strain the concentrate with a fine sieve if using tea bags and a coffee filter if using loose tea. Stir in vanilla. Store in the refrigerator.
Making the Chai:
Hot Chai: In a small saucepan, combine chai concentrate with the milk of your choice, using about a 1:1 ratio. Slowly heat over medium until it just barely begins to simmer, stirring occasionally. If you want to give it a little froth, blend on high in a blender for about 30 seconds.
Cold Chai: Combine chai concentrate with the milk of your choice, using about a 1:1 ratio. Pour over ice and enjoy!