Chai is steeped in a rich history. The name “chai” is actually the Hindi word for “tea”, which was derived from “cha”, the Chinese word for “tea”. In this case, the Hindi term chai means a mix of spices steeped into a tea-like beverage. Recipes for chai vary across continents, cultures, towns and families. But the traditional ingredients of a spiced tea blend usually include black tea mixed with strong spices, like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger and black peppercorns.
Since chai blends may contain different tea bases and different teas can have varying ideal brewing temperatures and steeping times, always ask your tea vendor for specific brewing instructions for the chai you purchased. Here are some general chai brewing tips to keep in mind:
- Chai can be steeped in water alone, a mixture of water and milk, or in milk alone, depending on your preference. (You never want to truly boil milk, though, or you could scald or burn it, leaving an off flavor.)
- Here is one classic chai steeping method: Steep your chai blend in one quarter to one half boiled water for up to 5 minutes (for chai with black or green tea leaves) or up to 15 minutes (for an herbal chai). Meanwhile, heat desired amount of milk to just barely a boil. Stir hot milk and desired sweetener into the water-steeped chai mixture. Strain and enjoy.
- If your chai contains black tea, it can be brewed a bit longer and in slightly hotter water temperatures than chai that contains green tea. Generally, this is somewhere between 200 and 212 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes. If your chai has a green tea base, it should be steeped at a lower temperature, somewhere around 170 to 190 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes. (If you don’t have an electric kettle with temperature control, just remember that at sea level water simmers at 190 degrees and boils at 212 degrees. The boiling temperature drops about a degree for every 1,000 feet in altitude increase.)
Using about 2 grams (1 teaspoon) of loose leaf tea per 8 oz. cup of water is a safe bet.
Always start with fresh, pure, cold filtered water when you brewing tea. Spring water is the best.
Cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel.
Just as with straight black tea or green teas, you don’t want to oversteep a chai blend that contain tea or it may release some bitterness and astringency from the tea leaves. Taste your chai after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you’d like it to steep a little longer.