Friday, January 15, 2010

The Perfect Cup of Chai

Those who know me really well will know that I have other passions besides "scrapbooking." I also happen to love tea - making it, collecting it, serving it, splurging on it, etc.

My favorite brand is Lupicia, which is a chain store that started out in San Fran, I do believe. There are nearly 200 branches in Japan, making it seem like Lupicia is a Japanese company, but it's not. That said, because tea stores like this are so very rare in Wisconsin, some might feel like bringing tea gifts bought at a Lupicia store in Japan would be the perfect Japanese souvenir. My mother, when visiting in December, spent a pretty penny at a nearby Lupicia, on Xmas gifts for her friends and family. It started because I brought her a chai gift set that I bought at a Lupicia Exposition, which Kaz and I attended back in October.

So, in this entry, as my ode to my 2nd passion of tea drinking, I will explain how to make the perfect cup of chai, as I see it. But, I also want to introduce a couple of my other favorite teas from Lupicia.

A Few of My Favorite Teas
This is made with black tea and cherry leaves, with some tiny red cherries to boot. It is colorful and has a wonderful aroma, and it can be served as a hot tea in winter or an ice tea in summer. Milk and sugar are not needed as it is a fruity herbal tea. If you want the the green tea version, look for Sakurambo Vert.

I do believe that this word means "clown" in French, and I only say that because the Japanese word for clown is "piro" and that is certainly not from the English language. This tea is fruity & flowery. It is similar to Sakurambo but more obvious in it's flowery flavor. Also served hot or cold and withOUT milk or sugar.

Orange Chocolate
I discovered this lovely tea at the same time I found the chai booth at the tea expo back in October. Orange tea brings back memories of childhood because Mom always had it in the house and we would drink it during those cold days of winter. Milk and sugar are of course a welcome addition to this soothing tea.

How to Make Chai
Chai is a type of Indian tea using black tea mixed with spices. Spices can vary, but common elements include black pepper, cinnamon stick and or ginger. At Lupicia, you can buy the spice mixtures in small jars, and there are 3 types to choose from.

Masala - a mixture of black pepper, pink pepper, cinnamon stick & cardamom.
Ginger - dried ginger plus cardamom
Cinnamon - a mixture of cinnamon stick & black pepper

The most recommended tea for making Chai is called Assam, which is a plain black tea commonly used for serving English tea. I'll take a cup of Assam any old time, but I found that Orange Chocolate performs rather nicely as the black tea of chai.

The finished tea is a mixture of the black tea, spices, hot water, milk & brown sugar.

Here is the best way to make chai, as I see it, with lots of trial and error. I find the methodical actions of making this tea a very soothing excuse for me to be in the kitchen in the mornings.

1. Fill your cup with water to measure the amount you'll need for boiling. Remember that about 1/4 will boil off in the simmering process, so fill it to the brim.

2. Pour your water into the sauce pan and bring to a boil. Then, turn down the heat so it is just simmering.

3. Add the spices. About 2 teaspoons will do for starters, but if you are making tea for two, then add about 1 tsp more. You can play around with these amounts as you make more cups of chai.

4. Add the black tea. About 1 tsp will do at first, add another tsp if you like your tea a little stronger.

5. Let the mixture simmer for about 3 minutes. Set your timer for sure because the water you'll need for the tea will boil off sooner than you think.

6. After 3 minutes, the tea mixture is properly steeped. In the meantime, fill your tea cup with 1/4 of the way with milk and warm that up in the microwave.

7. Use a tea strainer to pour the tea mixture over your cup.

8. Fill it up to the top and you'll see the milk / tea mixture has come just to the brim of the cup. Perfect!

9. Now for the fun, sugary part. Lupicia sells special sugar for teas, and this one is especially made for Assam teas. I thought I would try it out so I splurged, but I found that this brown sugar is eerily similar to the brown sugars you can buy at any store. Brown sugar dissolves better in tea, so keep that in mind. Honey is another good alternative.

10. And, now it is time to take a sip of this wonderfully, aromatic tea.


Check out Lupicia's recommendations for chai as well.


Shannon said...

Mmmmm that sounnds pretty good! But where would one buy the correct spices here in America? I started drinking tea when I was nursing and drank a lot of Mother's Milk tea. Don't drink it too often anymore, but this sounds tempting!

Mande's J-Life said...

Hi Shannon,
Lupicia stores in the USA are only located in California and Hawaii, but they have an online store. I have ordered from the online store (in Japan) a few times, but we have so many locations in Japan, it seems silly to not make a trip to the store itself. I think you could also put together the spices yourself, specifically the masala spices.

Kir said...

Geez, make me some too, K?

jacqueline said...

i LOVE tea! thank you for all of your valuable information.