Deepa Natarajan, Program Coordinator

It’s Tea Time!

For at least the past 15 years I’ve been working on my masala chai recipe. ‘Chai’ is a general word for “tea,” meaning an infusion of the young leaves of the Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis has a remarkable history, perhaps one of the more infamous tales is of the botanist Robert Fortune who was sent to China in 1848 on behalf of the British East India Company and in disguise, not only stole plants, but the secrets of growing, harvesting, and preparing tea, you can read more about him in a wonderfully written article in Smithsonian Magazine here. Fast forward to government issued tea times in India and the evolution of masala chai. The word ‘masala’ is a Hindi word for spices, and “masala chai” refers to the spicy, milky, and sweet beverage we have come to know as simply “chai.” Yes, indeed when you say “chai tea” you are in fact saying “tea tea.” Making your own chai is a great project for a gray April day! Or, why not chill your chai and add ice cubes for a hot April day!

Except for the milk, all of the ingredients in chai come from plants and we have most in them in the Garden! I suppose we could use a plant-based milk to create a fully botanical beverage. Though our Tropical House is closed for renovations, a recent visit would have revealed the wonders of some tropical spice plants such as cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), and black pepper (Piper nigrum) and a stand of sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum). In the Herb Garden we are growing coriander (Coriandrum sativum), and in our Crops of the World Garden we are growing tea (Camellia sinensis). Over the years I have greatly enjoyed teaching chai-making workshops inside the lush and humid Tropical House, smelling the delicious aroma of the chai while looking out at the plants that provide these ingredients. Read about one of the attendee’s experience in her blog post!

Perhaps you have some of these spices hanging out in your pantry, let’s put them to use! If you don’t have them, consider supporting our local treasure, the Oaktown Spice Shop – they are working safely and hard, mailing spices during this time. You can even check out their chai masala blend, which I had the honor of inspiring!

Deepa’s Chai

1 T cardamom powder (freshly ground is best)
1 T grated fresh ginger
2 cloves (freshly ground)
⅛ t Freshly ground coriander
⅛ t Freshly ground black peppercorns
1 T sugar
1 black tea bag or 1 T loose black tea (depending on desired strength – you can substitute rooibos for a decaffeinated version)
1 cup milk (whole milk preferred, almond and oat milk also work well)
2 cups water

Boil the water, sugar, spices, and tea together, once the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, about 4-5 minutes, add in the milk and bring to a boil. Strain out the spices/tea. That’s it! Like it more gingery? Add more! Modify to suit your palate, I like mine to be strong on the ginger and cardamom, but whatever your taste, most of all, enjoy!! Serves 2.

Make your chai, find a cozy spot in your home, and browse through the Garden’s House Planted resources here!

Featured Image: From “chai time!” on by Erin G.

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