Recipe: the best chai in India!

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India: the land of yoga, ‘cha’ (tea) and Ayurveda… just a few of my favourite things.

But strangely enough, as I traveled through India (from the jungles and tea plantations of the south to the snow-capped Himalayas), I seldom came across an ashram or Ayurvedic hospital. While India is revered for giving the western world many treasured spiritual hand-me-downs, I only occasionally met a local who practiced yoga. Or who meditated on a daily basis. Or who followed an Ayurvedic diet. Sadly, many Indians do not have access to the health and wellbeing resources born of their own country, yet so readily available in the west.

But there is one thing consistent through India that we don’t do so well in the western world. Most Indians do meditate daily in their own special way. Over a cuppa. Tea. Everyone… drinks it. All day. And they stop everything and chill while they drink it.

Sydney is a city of hardcore on-the-go espresso coffee drinkers, so to be surrounded by my own kind was utterly divine. Streets are lined with cha carts. On the train, a tea man or ‘cha walla’ will appear on the platform with a freshly poured pot of tea, serving it to you through your window for 10 rupee (20 cents) a cup. Black tea is sipped at dawn, while ginger tea is sipped at dusk. Even on a trip through the desert, in the sweltering heat, camels stop, drop and break so that their riders can enjoy tea intermissions.

There is one downside to all this tea drinking: sugar is often added to the vat or pot of tea, making it impossible to ask for cha sans-sucre. After a week or so of traveling through India, I just gave in. I was sipping sweet tea like a local. It’s been a few months since my return, and I still battle sugar cravings.

Masala cha is the most commonly sipped tea in India. It translates to, quite simply, black tea with spices, and has been adopted by other languages as ‘chai’. It is most commonly brewed in a metal or copper pot using ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and/or other spices and black tea leaves.

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Of all the cha I tasted in India, brewed at home, in a restaurant or from a cart, nothing was as refreshing or unique as a tea we tried in Rajasthan, from a café called ‘Base Camp’ run by a guy called Sandeep. I think it’s fair to say I’ve tasted nothing like it before. Refreshing, fiery, cleansing… I love it and make it at home all the time back in Australia. How? Because I was lucky enough to be passed down the recipe. It’s called ‘Magic Pinch Masala’.

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We met Sandeep at the foot of Savriti temple mountain, in the holy city of Pushkar. It was a hot winter’s afternoon, and my my husband and I had just climbed up and down the mountain. As we dragged our feet along the dusty road, a man called to us from his empty café. At first we said no and kept walking, but when I heard him say ‘Ayurvedic herbal tea’, I about-turned.

We walked back to the café and sat down. I’m so glad we did, because this guy was serious about his tea. He brought out a beautiful leather-bound handwritten menu, consisting only of Ayurvedic or ‘herbal mix drink’ tea items. I went for the ‘Mint Magic Pinch Masala’ mint tea, while Stu went for ‘Lemon Magic Pinch Masala’.

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Sandeep invited us into his kitchen to demonstrate how he brews the tea. He explained this recipe was his grandmother’s, of which she learnt many years ago from Ayurvedic doctors. He told us he had been drinking Magic Pinch since he was a child. In his 30 years, he claimed he had never fallen ill or visited a doctor.

I told Sandeep about my tea blog and asked if I could share the recipe here. He said the more people in the world that benefit from Magic Pinch the better. He told us he wanted to share his “Om Shanti” with the world.

Magic Pinch acquires its namesake because quite literally, all you need is one pinch. “Add it to curry, add it to soup, tea, anything…” says Sandeep. “Just one pinch is all you need.” In this instance, he boiled some fresh mint in one saucepan along with one pinch of Magic Pinch and a teaspoon of sugar (by this point I was well and truly addicted) and boiled another pinch in a second saucepan. After 3 minutes, he squeezed lemon into a tall glass and added the contents of the first saucepan. The mint concoction was poured into a  glass handed to me. We headed outside to sit in big comfortable leather armchairs in the winter sun.

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IMG_2513After the first sip, we glanced over the rims of our glasses at each other with grins. This tea was special: fiery, flavoursome and soothing on the stomach. Our two separate additives, mint and lemon, each complimented the spice blend in their own unique way.

We gladly purchased a tin of Magic Pinch from Sandeep for 300 rupees ($5) and have been drinking Magic Pinch ever since (boiled, not brewed. I tried brewing it once and it wasn’t the same). Sometimes I mix it up with dried peppermint leaves from the garden or boil it with black tea and soy milk to make a masala chai.

When I come down with the cold or flu, I mix Magic Pinch with lemon and honey and it clears me right up. it also helps soothe stomach upsets.

We also use it for cooking. Magic Pinch tastes great in a pineapple and cashew nut curry, but be careful: don’t over do it! It’s called a ‘pinch’ for a reason., anything more and the flavour is way too intense. Once we do finish the tin (which Sandeep assured us would take years) I’ll tackle the following recipe myself.

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So here’s the recipe. Sandeep didn’t give me measurements, so I guess it’s up to personal taste!

Magic Pinch Ayurvedic Masala Tea

Ingredients:
Black pepper
Ginger
Cinnamon
Cloves
Star anise
Tulsi (holy basil) dried leaves
One tulsi root

Preparation:
Dry herbs and blend together to taste.
Add one pinch to a saucepan of 350 ML water.
Add one pinch of raw sugar if you dare, or maybe a pinch of coconut sugar or a drop of honey. Otherwise this tea is perfectly delicious without sweetness.
Boil (don’t brew!) for 3mins.
Serve.

Note: if you wanted to make this as chai, simply boil Magic Pinch in a saucepan or chai pot with black tea leaves and milk.

~Thank you Sandeep for this recipe and spreading Om Shanti through the world~

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Tea review // Zanzibar Chai by Kettle Town

Brand:   Kettle Town
Tea:       Black tea blend, loose-leaf
Name:    Zanzibar Chai
Cost:      $12/ 100g

Chai is the ying-yang of teas: it both calms and energises, relaxes and inspires, warms in winter, and cools on a sweltering hot summer’s day. Originally known as masala chai, which is Hindi, Urdu and Nepali for “mixed spice tea”, it traditionally blends black tea with Indian spices.

For me it is the most comforting of teas: the rich flavours remind me of the spices used to embellish alcohol and food during my annually celebrated Swedish family Christmas, so it’s no surprise that it’s often lovingly referred to as ‘Christmas in a cup’.

chai tea

Zanzibar Chai by Kettle Town

Most westerners (including myself) were introduced to masala chai via the chai latte – the non-coffee alternative to the latte, most commonly concocted using chai flavoured syrup and frothed milk when served up in cafes (I’m not dissing chai syrup here, some chai syrups (especially homemade) are incredible). When chai teabags first started appearing on supermarket shelves I switched my morning cup of office Earl Grey to a chai. I’ve since tried blending my own chai, but I think my true blending moment will come after my trip to India next month.

I picked up this box of Zanzibar Chai by Australian tea company Kettle Town at the Sydney Tea Festival several months back (yes, another Aussie tea review!) . Of all the chais I tasted/ inhaled at the festival, this one was the most unique.

The tea tasting

Upon opening the package, a fiery, peppery aroma escapes the brown paper box and fills my nostrils and my kitchen: spicy, not sweet like your typical chai teabag or café syrup. The black tea is fine and blended with small lumps of ginger along with cloves, cardamom and peppercorns. When I dash a teaspoon into the teapot and douse it in hot water (boiled to 90 degrees) the aroma turns to sweet cinnamon: that reassuring Christmas smell.

As I bring the teacup to my lips, I’m comforted by both the aroma and taste fine black tea and cinnamon. But not for long: the other spices take over like a cold slap in the mouth: ginger, aniseed and clove cool the tastebuds, while the pepper gives it a final kick. I polish off the cup and am left feeling refreshed and wanting more.

The Tea Lady verdict?

I love that Kettle Town took inspiration from Zanzibar when creating this tea: the East-African archipelago known for producing spices like black pepper, cinnamon and cloves. Like I mentioned, chai cools when you’re hot, and this tea really hits the spot on a sweltering summer’s day (we’ve already experienced a few of those in Sydney this spring), just as I’d imagine it would on a tropical beach in exotic Zanzibar.

This is not a sweet chai: add a teaspoon of honey if you like it sweet, but I prefer ‘as is’ to relish the the full assault of flavour. Can’t wait to try this iced! Will update as soon as I do.

Best sipped under an umbrella on a sweltering day, mid-morning, with a slice of banana bread.

Oh – and this tea is great value at $12 per 100 grams.

Chai tea review

Where can I get it?

From the Kettle Town website