In Asia, Eastern Europe, North and East Africa, "chai" is the word for tea. In the Western world, chai is commonly used to indicate a spicy tea with milk or cream. Spiced chai is actually called "masala chai." How we referred to it really doesn't matter. Chai is becoming more popular than ever. In India and Pakistan it has long been more popular than coffee. While we have Starbucks on every corner, they have chaiwalas. These days, our Starbucks offer their own version of chai tea.
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Masala (spiced) chai is traditionally made from four components. A strong black tea, sweetner, milk and spices. The tea is always strong to prevent the cream and spices from overpowering it. While Assam is most often used, gunpowder tea and yerba mate are sometimes substituted. Traditional chai tea is made very sweet with white sugar. However, honey or brown sugar can also be used. The tea is generally boiled for several minutes with a creamer. Whole milk is traditional for its richness, but non-dairy, low-fat or eggnog can also be used. The spices used are typically cardamom (this is what makes it "chai"), cinnamon, ginger, star anise and peppercorn. When cardamom is not used, traditional Indian spices must be used for the tea to be classified "chai." Ginger and black pepper are used to give it bite, while cloves are nearly always used. Other ingredients may include nutmeg, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, licorice or saffron.
Bigelow's spiced chai is a black tea that contains a secret blend exotic spices. Sniffing the tea bag, it's clear that Bigelow's version contains black pepper and, when brewed, the tea has a spicy bite. There is also a strong smell of cloves, which is one of my favorite tea ingredients. I also smell a waft of anise, cinnamon and nutmeg, but there are so many smells, it's hard to tell what else is mixed in there.
Bigelow lists two options for brewing the tea.
Pour boiling water over one tea bag in a 6-8 oz. cup or mug. Allow to steep 3 to 5 minutes. Add a dollop of milk and sweeten to taste.
Prepare hot with milk and sweetener - then pour over ice.
For each 8 oz. cup, place one tea bag in a saucepan with 3/4 cup of water (6 fl. oz.). Bring to a rolling boil, lower heat and simmer 3 to 5 minutes. Pour into cup(s) and sweeten with sugar or honey.
The authentic method is pretty accurate. Chai tea is generally boiled in a pot and then simmered for awhile to create a deep, dark, intense tea. Cooking with the milk makes it rich and creamy. Sugar is traditional, but I prefer honey.
Generally, I take the quick way and put in a cup with boiling water to steep. The tea is substantially weaker when made this way. I generally do not add sugar or honey, because it just makes my low calorie "treat" into a higher calorie land mine. Instead, I use Coffeemate creamers, which are low calorie and low carb. Dairy drives my body nuts anyway. With Beglow's spiced chai, I like to use creamer flavors Creme Brulee, Eggnog and/or Original. For a creamier taste with less calories, add half Original and half another flavor. The Creme Brulee gives a nuttier taste while Eggnog enhances the natural chai spices. Eggnog is my preference. January and February is a good time to buy Eggnog creamer as it is being cleared off store shelves. I just bought some for $1 for the large bottle.
For this review, I used the traditional method, boiling on the stove. The tea is much stronger when boiled. You have to be very careful as it boils more quickly when milk and creamer are added. It will also boil up and over, despite the small amount of liquid. I used a low fat version of Original Coffeemate. It didn't hold up as well with boiling. I would recommend using the regular versions or a flavor when not using whole milk. In general, I don't even keep granulated sugar, so I added two teaspoons of honey. It still tasted really good, but Eggnog is definitely my favorite.
Definitely a wonderful treat during this cold time of year. It also works great in summer, when iced. :)
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