December 23, 2011 by bethanjthomas
Starbucks have done something quite impressive over the last few years. They seem to have been given credit by many of their loyal drinkers for creating a drink that the Indian sub-continent have been preparing since the 20th century. Their festive ‘chai latte’ is the most celebrated take on masala chai that the West have ever seen.
Chai is simply a blend of black tea with a mix of spices and a large helping of sugar that should be boiled in milk to create a creamy, spiced infusion.
It is possible that spices were blended with tea leaves historically as they were a cheap way to pad out tea which was a real luxury and expense back in the day. What is certain is that the Indian Tea Board certainly didn’t approve of the tendency to place spices in tea originally. But that didn’t hold back chai’s path to global domination.
Whilst there is no hard and fast recipe for chai, in India it is still prepared traditionally by blending spices such as cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, star anis, cloves and nutmeg with a strong black tea (Assam is perfect…it won’t be over powered). A generous helping of sugar is added to the mix – the same amount of sweetness as tea leaves. This delicious mix is simmered gently in milk until it is the perfect strength. Cardamon is often the dominant spice in Indian blends, but the exact flavour will vary greatly from region to region.
In comparison, the West prefers a simpler method for production. Liquid chai concentrates or granules are extremely important and make it easier to produce chai on mass and at speed. The American, and Starbucks, mix concentrates on cinnamon rather than cardamon.
The end result on any continent is a deliciously sweet, warming, creamy drink. It’s delicious. I just wouldn’t want Starbucks to take all the credit.