Monday, August 17, 2009


I drink copious amounts of tea. I always have. It's a product of growing up in Kenya and Egypt and I like to be served both countries' versions of chai -- the milky, spicy, milky version from East Africa and the clear, sugared, mint-flavored version from the Middle East.

East African chai is the best kind for drinking throughout the morning and well into the afternoon. It's best, for sleep purposes and to avoid ruining your appetite for dinner, to finish up your mug before 6 pm, which I'm doing just now as I write this. East African chai is easy enough to make and spice yourself, mixing voluminous mugs of it and coloring it just right.

Middle Eastern chai -- or shai, to say in in Arabic properly -- really needs someone serving it to you, refilling your shot glass with mint stalks and pouring the freshly brewed tea from a pot high above, careful not to splash for maximum dramatic effect. It feels wrong to drink shai in anything except a delicate little tumbler, and I haven't the patience to keep pouring refills of it.

When I left Kenya for Egypt at 14, East African chai was one of the things I missed the most. Over the years, I've learned how to make a pretty good replica of it.

1. While your water is set to boil, prepare your mug. Use the largest mug you've got, and put two Lipton or other strong dark tea bags into it. If you're using sugar instead of honey, add a generous spoonful of it now. Then add a pinch or so of dried ginger and another of black pepper. Trust me.

2. When your water is boiling, pour it slowly over the teabags, making sure the water runs directly through them. This will make the tea instantly stronger, which you'll need to counter all the spices, sugar and milk. Leave about a third of the cup free for your milk.

3. Using whole milk, fill the cup until your tea is a lovely milky brown. If you've had chai before, you know what I mean. Otherwise, just estimate and you'll figure it out according to your taste.

4. If you're using honey, add it now, after the milk has given the tea a chance to cool. Heat denatures the enzymes in honey, so you want to add it now to get all of it's benefits.

5. Holding the string on the tea bags, stir everything gently until the tea darkens another shade. Then squeeze the bags against a spoon to get the last of the color out, remove them and drink up.

1 comment:

  1. I miss your tea! You do make the best chai. You could sell that too... :) I'll really miss it when winter is once again upon us in the Northern Hemisphere. Thankfully that won't be for a few more months.


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