I love chai spices. The smell warms me up and makes me dreamy and exotic. I close my eyes and imagine I’m wearing a saffron-colored sari and riding an elephant. I have found however that not all chai spice blends are equal, and I’m more often than not disappointed by them. They aren’t pungent enough, lack kick, and have only a faint flavor. Maybe the publicly available ones are watered down for presumably wimpy Western tastes, or maybe I just like my food to have a personality. Anyway, I finally tired of the letdown and decided to make my own.
I started with an article about Masala Chai on wikipedia. It has a pretty through description of the different spices used in various regions of the world. I pulled out everything on the list (except saffron; I don’t have any saffron) and stacked it on my counter.
We stared at each other for a week.
Our kitchen is pretty small, and I started to feel guilty for commandeering most of the counter-top with my indecision. I rolled up my sleeves and started mixing.
One thing to remember when blending by scent: your nose gets burned out pretty fast. To cleanse its palate, keep a handful of coffee beans – I suspect ground coffee would work, too – nearby. Every other scent or so, take a whiff of the coffee to reset your sense of smell.
The primary base of a chai spice blend is a combination of ginger and cardamom. I started with 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cardamom. My spices aren’t particularly fresh, and I’m sure that makes a big difference, but for these early experiments, I didn’t want to waste top quality spices. When I get it “just right,” then I’ll upgrade to the super-freshly grated, chopped kind. Early on, just use what you have on hand.
I made sure to sniff each spice separately before sniffing again once blended because I wanted to be able to clearly identify which spice had which effect. Then I grabbed my coffee and sniffed it.
Next, I added 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
There are lots of other spices like fennel, anise, pepper, almond, salt, nutmeg, coriander, rose, turmeric and saffron which can be added according to your personal taste and preference. Also, chai tea requires a great deal of sweetener, either with white sugar, brown sugar, palm or coconut sugars or honey, and milk, either whole or evaporated or even condensed. It’s a flavor that begs for individual expression.
I decided to keep this blend very simple for the first time. I will be using these spices in scones and cakes, so I’m leaving out the sweeteners and the almond / vanilla liqueurs until baking.
Here’s the short list:
It’s a 1 : 2 : 4 : 6 ratio of
cinnamon : cloves : ginger : cardamom
When I get ready to bake, I’ll add vanilla extract, Canton liqueur and Amaretto. (I prefer to bake with liqueurs instead of extracts. The liqueurs bake cleanly and leave a notable flavor without aftertaste, whereas the extracts leave a strong alcohol burn to the smell and taste of the baked good. Personal preference, though.)