In recent years, a new flavor mix has appeared in bistros and coffee houses – chai tea latte. Most often served hot with sweetener and cream, it is a hearty, satisfying drink. So what is this chai flavor?
This seasoning mix comes from an Indian beverage by the name “masala chai” which translates as “mixed spice tea.” It is uses Assam black tea, a dark, rich, brew grown in the foothills of the Himalayas and combines it with a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, green cardamom, and black pepper.
The cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and ginger I’m sure you recognize but the cardamom might be new to you. Green cardamom (Eletarria cardamomum) is the seed pod of a member of the ginger family. The flavor is a somewhat earthy version of cinnamon and cloves. It is commonly used in Indian cooking and – oddly enough – Nordic pastries where it provides the often hard-to-define characteristic flavor of these sweets.
But back to that chai spice mix. Can you create your own at home? Oh yes indeed. Here’s what you need for the basic mix.
- 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
This is a rough approximation of the basic spices in chai. Some versions also include ground coriander, star anise, or fennel seeds. Everyone’s taste varies so feel free to experiment with the amounts. One word of warning – go easy on the cloves. This spice has a flavor punch all out of proportion to its volume.
Chai spice mix can be made in advance and stored for use, just as you might do with pumpkin spice mix. The chai flavor can be added to quick breads, cookies, cheesecake, scones, custards – in fact anyplace you might otherwise use pumpkin pie spice mix. With the holidays coming up, why not get creative with this spice mix and wow friends and family?
P.S. Cardamom is, pound for pound, one of the most expensive spices available. A typical spice bottle full of cardamom at the grocer’s will cost more than double the amount of other spices so be prepared for a little “sticker shock” when you buy some.