The first time I had homemade chai tea was at a yoga retreat years ago. It was made in a giant batch by a vegan, Ayurvedic chef and it was like nothing I had ever tasted. Sweet, spicy, warm, and creamy with notes and layers I don't even know how to describe all happening at the same time. I remember asking the chef how she made it as I gathered up my yoga props from the day's practice. She said she'd developed the recipe over the years and then listed off a dozen spices. I remember seeing whole spices at the bottom of the giant pot as I ladled myself cup after cup. It was incredible.
I've never been a coffee drinker, I'm convinced my husband and I are the last two people on earth who don't drink caffeine. So after I discovered chai I started ordering it at places like Starbucks and Argo tea. And let me tell you, it's been a story of disappointment after disappointment. I'm no expert, but these drinks don't even deserve to be called the same name as the stuff I had that day of the retreat. And from what I've read the main difference is that these places all use store-bought chai concentrate. Booo.
So I sought out to try and re-create that yoga retreat chai, whole spices and all. I researched all over the internet. I consulted Indian and Ayurvedic cookbooks. I experimented with different spices and different steep times. Different sweeteners and proportions. And I kept failing. Until now.
I don't know if this stuff is the real deal, and like I said, I'm definitely no expert, but this stuff tastes spot on to that magical drink I had two years ago. It's well-worth the two hour steep time, and makes a bulk portion of the best chai tea I've ever had. A warm mug of it is helping me get through winter in Chicago, but I'd imagine it would be just as good served over ice in the summer.
Notes: None of the spices were too hard to find. If you have a local Indian grocery store I recommend buying them in bulk from there. If you're in Chicago, I'm a huge fan of Patel Brothers on Devon (while you're there stock up on things like lentils, basmati rice, and rose water). I also ADORE The Spice House in Old Town, they have any spice you could ever possibly need and I don't know what I'd do without them! Last resort, check out Amazon!
Most recipes call for the finished chai to be topped with honey or agave but I found that the licorice added just enough sweetness for me. Feel free to add some in for extra sweetness.
Makes about 8 cups
Adapted from: Yogi Bhajan
8 cups water
18 whole cloves
24 green cardamom
30 whole black peppercorns
1.5 ounces fresh ginger (about a thumb size knob), roughly sliced
4 cinnamon sticks, each roughly 1 inch long
1 tablespoon diced dried licorice root
2 star anise
2-3 bags black tea (optional)
1 can full fat coconut milk
In a large pot combine the water and all of the spices, leaving out only the black tea and coconut milk. Bring water with the spices to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. For a caffeine-free version (this is what I did) omit the black tea. If using black tea, add it to the pot after the 2 hour steep time and let it steep however long the package instructs (usually about 10 minutes). Remove the tea bags and turn off the heat. Pour in the coconut milk and stir until combined and warmed throughout.
You can serve immediately, as the spices tend to sink to the bottom. To store the remaining tea (it's good for about a week), pour it through a fine mesh strainer and discard the spices. I stored in mason jars. While re-heating, make sure the tea does not reach boiling point as this causes the coconut milk to separate.
My husband spent a month in southern Spain at the beginning of the summer so I flew out and joined him. Our favorite part of Madrid (aside from the tortillas which I'm a bit too intimidated to attempt!) was the tintos. I hate to admit it but we downed at least 2-3 of them a day with lunch and dinner. I was initially prepared to drink lots of sangria until I read that sangria is what the tourist drink and all the real locals drink tinto de verano, literally "wine of summer".
Almost all the of red wine we ordered in Spain was served chilled. Seriously, why don't we do that in the states? It was SO GOOD. Tinto is simpler than sangria with only two ingredients: half chilled red wine and half lemon soda. Literally that's it. And it is so so good. And a glass will cost you only around 2-4 euros. Cheap.
When we got back we couldn't wait to make it ourselves. We typically don't ever drink soda, and we definitely don't keep it in the house, so after splurging on some lemon flavored San Pellegrino, I figured couldn't I make this simpler at home with ingredients I already have on hand. I thought about making my own lemon soda with simple syrup but the idea of sitting over a stove dissolving sugar then waiting hours for the liquid to cool felt counter the the simple nature of this drink. So we ended up going with sparkling water, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and a bit of agave, no stove required. We bought cheap Spanish wine from trader joe's, mix it all together and poured it over ice. The result is the perfect summer drink that transports us right back to our favorite tapas bars. The best part is, this slightly more natural version, keeps with the simplicity of the drink and literally comes together in 3 minutes.
It's helping me savor these last precious weeks of summer before grad school starts again.
Makes 2 drinks
1 1/3 cup sparkling water, chilled
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons agave
1 1/2 cups Spanish red wine*, chilled
Mix together water, lemon juice, and agave. Pour in red wine and stir. Serve over ice.
Notes: From what I've read tinto is usually made with Spanish table wine, so no need to splurge on something fancy. I recommend a lighter juicer wine like pinot, nothing too rich and tanine-y.
Few things in life feel more appropriate for summer than this lemonade. It is crisp, cool, and insanely refreshing without being overly sweet. The mint adds subtle sophistication, and the fresh cucumber juice is packed with cooling health benefits perfect for hot days. We are just obsessed.
Cucumber Mint Lemonade
Makes about 8 cups
2 cups fresh lemon juice ~ 18-20 lemons worth
large bunch fresh mint ~ 1 oz
2-3 large cucumbers, peeled + chopped ~ 2 pounds
3/4 cups sweetener of choice, or more
4 cups water
Combine mint, cucumbers, sweetener and 3/4 cup of water in a blender. If it doesn't fit, feel free to do it in two batches. Blend on high until completely pureed. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. You can use a spatula to help it through. Discard the solids. Mix the cucumber juice mixture with the lemon juice and add remaining 3 1/4 cups water. It's not a very sweet lemonade, but feel free to adjust to taste adding extra water or sugar. Keeps fresh for about 2 days.
- Though totally not a problem, if you don't peel the cucumbers completely the lemonade will be slightly green in color.
- Feel free to play with the amount of mint. I've made this lemonade with a small handful of mint leaves, a giant bunch (1.5 oz) and a medium bunch (.75 oz). I think the strong minty flavor is super refreshing and love the giant bunch, but for something subtler go for less.
- What about a juicer? I wanted this recipe to be accessible to non-juicer owners so I experimented first with the blender/sieve technique then the juicer. Both work, and I could be crazy, though I found the blender method actually produced better minty flavor.
- I've tried this lemonade with coconut sugar, cane sugar, and agave. All work great.