Homemade chai drinks easy, cheaper

Posted Feb. 20, 2009, at 5:36 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:53 a.m.

One of the first things advisers say to people in financial straits (which could be almost anyone these days) is stop buying those expensive coffee, tea, lattes, etc., on the way to work or at break time. A large latte is practically a synonym for “costly treat.” Enough people have taken this advice that some of the ubiquitous chain coffee shops have closed, though in rural Maine there weren’t any or many of them to begin with.

I like chai latte once in a while, or a cup of coffee with a shot of chai flavoring in it. I had my first chai latte with my sister during her birthday lunch, which we celebrated at a nice local place that serves coffees, lunches and pastries. Of course, they had a steam frother for the milk, which changes the texture of the milk to creamy and smooth, and that is hard to do at home without a machine to help you. Still, if you aren’t in it for the texture and you just like the flavor of chai, here are a couple of do-it-yourself chais.

Chai in India merely means “tea” and the tea is often spiced with a blend of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and anise. So one way to make it is to add these spices to plain black or green tea, then add milk and sweetening to taste. Here is one formula you can use, and you will want to obtain whole spices at a health-food store, food cooperative or, in Bangor, says ShopGirl Kristen Andresen, at the Natural Living Center.

I would say, if you don’t have one of the spices, don’t worry about it too much. There are so many variations of chai mixtures that you could leave one out and still have that chai flavor. Tweak to taste. Some chai recipes even call for black pepper, so if you think yours needs a little bite then you know what to do.

While perusing back issues of Karyl Bannister’s wonderful newsletter Cook and Tell, I also bumped into a recipe from 2000 for spicing sweetened condensed milk with chai spices so that when you hanker for chai, you can merely stir it into a cup of any old bag or loose-leaf brewed tea, or coffee. If you don’t usually brew loose tea, you may prefer the spiced milk route. You can buy chai flavoring to put into your beverages, but this recipe is a frugal way to arrive at practically the same thing. Keep it in a jar in the fridge until it is used up.

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