Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Chai Diary

I’ve always thought that caffeine doesn’t affect me. I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life. I don’t drink colas. And I prefer green tea to black. But chai--ahhh, sweet, fragrant chai—who can resist?

Not I. Not yesterday. I had chai with lunch; I had chai with second lunch; I had chai with dinner. Driving home last night, I made a scientific discovery: ten cups of chai is exactly enough to make your heart race so fast that you can actually hear it.

At bedtime, it was still dancing to a techno beat. I did some Work work, chopped firewood, conjugated Italian verbs, baked granola--even a heavy dose of Dickens couldn't slow me down. It was 3 a.m., and I was still wide awake.

So I dug in to my fresh stack of library books to learn about the demon that was keeping me from my dreams—specifically, how to have my chai and sleep too. Here’s what I learned.

First, a useful aside. Each tea has its own recommended brewing temperature. Black teas should brew in very hot water (200 degrees), and green teas in cooler water (160 degrees). Despite what your English friends will tell you, you’ll have the perfect water for black tea if you bring the water to a boil and then allow it to sit for a minute or two before adding it to the tea. Let the water rest a few more minutes for green teas. Then steep the tea as long as you please.

Now for the (un)kicker. Caffeine is highly soluble in hot water, most of it being released within the first minute of brewing. So, to make a naturally decaffeinated tea from my favorite dark leaves, all I have to do is let the tea steep for thirty to sixty seconds, pour off the caffeinated water, and then steep the tea in fresh water.

With that happy piece of information tucked under my pillow, I settled in for a short (but sweet) winter’s night, and this morning I tamed my favorite chai recipe. I hope you like it.

A calm cuppa and a bowl of chai-powered granola

Sweet Dreams Chai

Bring six cups of water to a boil. Pour off three cups of the water and steep 2 bags of orange pekoe tea for one minute. Discard the steeped water and add the tea bags to the fresh water.

Add 10 cardamom pods, 7-8 cloves, and ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds. Cook on low heat, uncovered, for about ten minutes, or until liquid is reduced by one cup. Discard the tea bags.

Add 4 cups of milk and ¼ cup of sugar or honey and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Strain before serving. Serves 4.