The first time I drank proper Indian tea was the summer of 1997, when I was living with a family friend in Flushing while doing an internship at a poetry magazine. She had gone to medical school in India and developed a taste for the sweet dark concoction that came of boiling Brooke Bond Red Label tea leaves in water and generous spoonfuls of sugar, then adding half-and-half.
My second taste was during a few months I spent in Dharmasala, where every day I visited the tea stand with their two bubbling tureens of tea, which they scooped and deftly poured from cup to cup several times before finally handing it down to the waiting customer.
Since then, the taste has been something I always crave. Only recently I found a recipe that half-replicated the brew I recollected, but office life does not lend itself to pans simmering for half-hours at a time. (Our kitchenette is pleasant enough, but we've only got an electric kettle and a microwave oven.)
And so I was delighted, on an excursion to Mariage Freres last September, to discover their Chandernagor. Theirs was the first chai blend I found that captured the requisite spiciness without a jarring chemical vanilla overtone. Yet my 100 grams were quickly gone, and the second 100 grams too that the friend I visited in Paris brought when she came to see me in Berlin. I was set to buy half a kilo, reasoning if you're going to do something, you may as well do it right, but then hesitated, looking at the online blurb: "En hommage à ce fameux comptoir français des Indes, ce mélange réussi d’épices impériales: clou de girofle, cannelle, gingembre, cardamome et poivre. Chaud au palais." Hmm...
I went through to the kitchen and got out a jar that had formerly housed sunflower honey, poured some spices into my mortar and roughed them up with a pestle, then added them to the jar, along with some black tea, and gently shook everything together. After leaving the jar for a day to let the flavours meld, I tasted the results and was utterly satisfied.
Chai on the go (after MF's Chandernagor)
- 10 green cardamon pods
- 10 whole black cloves
- 8 black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick (1 inch)
- 50 grams /1.75 oz / 1/2 C loose black tea (I used an Assam TGFOP from my favourite Berlin tea shop)
Use one rounded teaspoon per serving.