Tea has been traded far and wide since time immemorial. Before there were planes, trains, boats, and automobiles, tea was transported strapped to the backs of people and horses. For over a millennium, one ancient footpath has connected the tea markets of Yunnan, China to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Known as the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, this unpaved and rugged path— which was formed only by the foot traffic of humans and horses— is one of the most dangerous ancient commercial roads. It stretches across nearly 2,500 miles of mountains, rivers, canyons, valleys and planes. In addition to tea, trade goods like salt and sugar flow into Tibet via the Tea-Horse Road, while livestock, furs, musk, and other Tibetan products are transported to world beyond.
Story by Tracy Howard
Photos by Stuart Mullenberg
Issue 18 MARCH/APRIL 2009
Wake up your tastebuds with homemade masala chai
IF THE WORD “CHAI” MAKES YOU THINK MORE OF A SYRUPY CONCENTRATE than of a decadently spiced and creamy tea, it may be time to trace this age-old beverage back to its roots. Masala chai, which literally translates to “spice tea,” is a blend of Indian black tea, Indian spices and milk. With ingredients thought to possess healing porperties, many of the masala chai spices have been used as a part of the Hindu ayurvedic tradition for over 5,000 years. It was the British colonists’ addition of milk and sugar that finessed masala chai into the bold yet silky tea we drink today. This recipe, from Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea in San Francisco, fuses the pugency of cardamom and ginger with unexpected spices, like saffron and licorice root, for a delicate, yet vibrant, chai. According to Jacobs, no two chai recipes are alike, and he encourages customizing the blend to suit your personal tatses. “Every Indian grandmother will give you a different authentic recipe,” Jacobs says. “If you like your chai with more caffeine, add more Darjeeling tea. If you want more spice, grate in extra ginger and add a few additional peppercorns. With chai, the options are truly limitless.”
1 Tbsp. Assam tea
1 tsp. Darjeeling tea
1 two-inch-long cinnamon stick
1 tsp. dried, shredded ginger root*
5 whole cloves
5 peppercorns, whole
2 cardamom pods, whole
¼ tsp. shredded licorice root*
5 saffron threads
2 cups water
3 Tbsp. raw cane sugar
2 cups whole milk
*Jacobs recommends checking your local health-food store for hard-to-find ingredients.
Saucepan with lid
1. Combine all dry ingredients, except raw cane sugar, in a large bowl and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, boil 2 cups of water with 3 Tbsp. of raw cane sugar; stir to dissolve sugar.
3. Add dry chai blend, stir to blend, and boil for 10 minutes.
4. Add 2 cups of whole milk and watch closely as you barely bring it to a boil. Turn off heat when chai reaches a boil. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
5. Strain tea into a teapot and serve.