A Tea Expert Shares Her Recipe For How To Make A Real Cup Of Chai At Home

a cup of coffee on a table© Provided by Rodale Inc.

We've long been extolling the benefits of relaxing with a cup of hot tea, and the warm flavors of spiced chai take those benefits to the next level—plus, they're perfect for a frosty winter day. (Here are some unique gifts for the tea lover in your life.) 

To find out more about the benefits of Chai from a true expert, we chatted with Madura Chaudhari Sotolongo, owner of Philadelphia's The Chai Bar. Chaudhari Sotolongo comes from a small town called Chiplun on the west coast of India, slightly north of the popular beach state Goa. Since she moved to Philly she's been on a mission to bring the true, organic, Indian-style Chai with homegrown ingredients that she grew up with to the general population in the U.S. 

Related: 11 Healing Teas To Relieve Headaches, Stress, Colds, Constipation, And More

In India, she says, Chai is much more than just a beverage: "Chai is probably the first thing that every parent teaches their kid to make in the kitchen in India. My parents taught me when I was young. Chai is so deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of India that it finds a rightful position in every aspect of life. In India, guests are known as 'emissaries of god.' They can come by any time without notice. And when they come, you serve. You almost always serve them Chai. Whenever guests came to our home, my mom or dad would immediately ask me to brew a pot of Chai. My brother and sister-in-law started calling me ‘The Chai Master.'"

(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)

 

A post shared by The Chai Bar (@maduraschaibar) on Dec 9, 2017 at 10:22am PST

Chaudhari Sotolongo waxes poetic about her love of the tea, saying, "Making Chai is like an art to me. The magic of the spices, the color of tea when you add milk in it, the aroma that it gives and finally when you get that sweet and spicy heavenly cup of Chai there is nothing quite like it! It’s the amalgamation of culture, kindness, tradition—it's an integral part of the rhythm of life, from the mountains of Kashmir to the seaside of Kanyakumari." 

She explains that the word Chai simply means "strongly brewed spiced milk-tea" in Hindi. She laughs and says, "when you say, ‘Chai tea’ you are really saying ‘tea tea’!" 

Related: 6 Teas You Should Be Using For Clearer Skin

She quit her data job to pursue her passion 

Chaudhari Sotolongo came to the United States in the summer of 2014 to pursue a master's degree in Financial Engineering, a combination of math, statistics, finance and computer science.

She worked in a demanding job as a data analyst at Comcast, but she wasn't happy:  "I would go to work at 7:30 am, crave a cup of Chai, and then dream about having a freshly brewed cup around 10 a.m., and then again in the afternoon when I felt most sleepy," she says, "I soon learned that my work at Comcast wasn’t my cup of tea—but it did allow for ideas to start brewing in my head. 

Related: Why You Should Be Using An Electric Kettle—Plus The 5 Best Ones To Buy

"I love everything about Chai (and food!)," she says, "But whenever I went to coffee shops to grab a quick hot cup of Chai during or after work, I found that there was a serious lack of real Chai. The Chai here didn't taste like what I grew up with in India. To me, Chai is made with fresh spices and healthy ingredients, unlike at many commercial coffee shops where the Chai is made with corn syrup and imitation flavors. So I decided to leave my job and start The Chai Bar."

Related: 9 Best Teas To Boost Your Immunity And Help You Relax

Chai Bar has only been her project for the past few years, but she's already selling out at farmer's markets and pop-ups around the city, and her enthusiasm for the drink, and the culture around Chai, makes it easy for her to gain a following—including people who have never even tried true Chai before. The drink is unifying because it can be everything from "a conversation starter on dates" to "a refreshing break after a hard day at work" to "a dependable friend when life doesn't seem like a bed of roses," Chaudhari Sotolongo says. 

Below, she shares a simple, beginner recipe for her all-time favorite beverage: Ginger Chai.

Related: I Drank Matcha Tea Instead Of Coffee Every Morning For A Week And Here’s What Happened

a close up of a drink© Provided by Rodale Inc. Credit Link: 

The Chai Bar's Ginger Chai

The basic components of Chai are black tea (my favorite is Assam tea), spices, milk, and a sweetener. If you are lactose-intolerant or don’t like whole milk, then flaxseed milk is a good alternative. It offers a good consistency and holds the Chai and spice flavors. Also, if you like honey better than sugar, go for it—but make sure you add honey at the very end, after straining your Chai into a cup. 

½ cup water
¾ to 1 inch piece ginger, peeled (adjust to your taste)
2 tsp loose organic black tea leaves
2 tsp sugar or honey (adjust to your taste)
¾ cup whole milk

1. Bring the water to a simmer in a medium saucepan.

2. Grate the ginger into the saucepan; bring water to a boil. 

3. Add tea leaves and sugar or honey, and stir; continue to boil.

4. Add milk and boil for about 2 minutes more.

5.Strain your tea into a cup through a fine mesh sieve and enjoy your delicious cup of Ginger Chai. When you sip, slow down. Don't forget that it’s not just a blend of spices and tea with milk: it’s the amalgamation of popular culture, tradition, diversity, history, and stories in one cup. 

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