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.