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The Spice Route: Imbibe Scores our Chai Recipe

imbibe logoStory 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.

Check out the original article here.

No time to collect all the herbs and teas yourself? Here is Samovar’s Organic Masala Chai.

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Jodet’s Tea Trip to Taiwan Part I

The tea culture is growing and essentially, so should we. My name is Jodet Ghougassian and I’m the manager at Samovar Tea Lounge, Hayes Valley location. I have been studying tea for about three years. The various flavors and cultures of exploration in the world of tea fascinate me.

Jodet Picking Tealeaves in Taiwan
Jodet Picking Tealeaves in Taiwan

I find that often times, what people don’t know is that tea, much like any other plant, takes great skill and process. How often does one ponder, while sipping their black tea in the morning, “Wow, someone actually hand picked these leaves and spent hours contributing to the final process?” I know I never used to. Until now.

Eventually after understanding how to describe tea and its basic processes, I thought, how amazing would it be if I could actually go out and live on a farm with a tea master who can teach me everything I need to know about the processes of tea? This little dream soon became a goal needing to be accomplished, and that’s where my trip to Taiwan comes in.

On October 12, one of my staff members, Lorraine and I flew to Puli, Taiwan,  a mountainous region three hours outside of Taipei where a large population of tea cultivation takes place. We were staying with a farmer whom I met in May at the World Tea Expo. The farmer, KC Chen and his wife, Katie, welcomed me and Lorraine into their home with open arms.

Lorraine and host Rebecca on the tea bus
Lorraine and host Rebecca on the tea bus

We did not speak the language, nor did we know what to expect. We just shared a common love for tea. We packed our bags and traveled thousands of miles with our Flip camera, and our digitals in hopes of bringing back an experience for our Samovar staff and community. Mr.Chen had arranged for two lovely translators to guide us through the process.

Essentially, the itinerary was to process oolongs and black tea for a whole week from start to finish.  I was so intrigued with the complete tea experience. I feel that that’s not something you can find in a book.  We filmed and processed tea for the week and were able to get some amazing photographs and footage. I hope that the next couple blogs will enrich your knowledge of tea and help bring joy into your life as much as it has to mine.

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Learn About Black Tea

Learn black teaBlack Tea is the class of tea that is considered to be fully-oxidized. The processing of Black Tea originated in China, where it is known as Hong Cha, or “Red Tea.” When this fully-oxidized tea came to the west, people saw the black color of the dry leaves and Black Tea got its name.

Black tea is processed to become dark. This means that enzymatic oxidation is encouraged.

With black tea, the leaf is not fired until the leaf has oxidized to a point that the Tea Master making the tea determines is enough. If the tea is not oxidized enough, it will be to green in flavor. Too much oxidation and the tea will taste flat and dusty.

The resulting infusion of a Black Tea is a coppery “red.” This change in color occurs as a result of the way oxidation alters the polyphenols in the tealeaf. Fresh tealeaves are rich in polyphenols (the antioxidants), which have a clear and greenish pigment. When these clear-green polyphenols oxidize, they become Theaflavin, which has a golden-yellow pigment (as with the infusions of oolongs and white teas). In black tea, the Theaflavin has further oxidized and become Thearubigin, which has a reddish pigment.

Due to the hearty tea leaf varietals traditionally selected to make Black Tea, the infusions tend to be higher in caffeine than most other kinds of tea.

Take a look at the Samovar Black Teas. These make a great substitution for coffee by providing energy and hydration.