Recipe Redux: Masala chai tea mix

I'm excited to announce that Taste & See has been accepted into an awesome group called The Recipe Redux! Here's how it works: on the 21st of each month, I'll be creating a recipe that adheres to an established theme, and my recipe will be compiled with the other Redux-ers' creations into one big collection. I get to have fun creating new recipes and working with different ingredients, and you, the reader, will get to explore other food blogs and healthy recipes. November's Recipe Redux theme? Adding merriment to mixes.

There are plenty of classic mixes that people give and get as gifts, especially during the holiday season: cookies, cocoa, bread, and mulling spices, to name a few. One that I, personally, would love to receive is masala chai tea. There are probably as many chai tea recipes as there are people in India, and it's always interesting to taste how people change the spice ratios and techniques to fit their personal tastes.

There is no "correct" recipe for chai tea, but most involve cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, pepper, star anise, fennel, and ginger brewed with black tea. I love versions where the spices are simmered for awhile to bring out their full flavor before adding the tea and milk, but sometimes simplicity calls for an easy-to-steep mix that gives you a cup of spicy tea in a few easy steps. The black tea does become slightly bitter when simmered, but I find the simmering necessary to a strongly flavored drink, and the bitterness is mostly masked by the spices. The spice ratios in this recipe can be altered according to personal preference, and a slice of fresh ginger simmered with the mix adds considerable flavor.
The use of chai tea dates back to more than 5,000 years ago, and there are many versions to the story of how it originated. We do know, however, that it has long been used in ayurveda, the natural healing system of the Hindus. Each ingredient is thought to be powerful: ginger and black pepper may aid in digestion, cardamom helps promote mental clarity, cinnamon can help regulate blood sugar, and cloves contain immune-boosting properties. Who knows if these ingredients truly have healing power, but when combined, they make quite a tasty beverage.
Just look at those toasted spices. Smells like you wouldn't believe.
Masala chai tea mix
Makes approximately 12 8-ounce servings of tea
Note: This recipe can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled as needed to make multiple gift mixes. Play with the spices to fit your personal taste preference. The addition of fennel and crystallized ginger would also fit nicely.

6 inch cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons cardamom seeds, removed from ~15 green pods
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 star anise
1/2 cup loose black tea
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Scatter the cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds, cloves, peppercorns, and star anise on a small sheet tray. Toast in the oven for 5 minutes. They will be wonderfully fragrant.
  3. Break up the cinnamon stick with your hands a bit, then transfer all the spices into a mortar and pestle. Use some elbow grease to crush the spices into small, mostly uniform pieces. You may need to crush the cinnamon separately as it tends to be tougher. 
  4. Dump the crushed spices to a bowl and stir in the black tea. 
  5. Transfer to a decorative half-pint container, and attach the following instructions for brewing a single 8-ounce serving of chai tea:
Shake well to evenly distribute spices before using. Bring 3/4 cup (6 ounces) of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add 1 tablespoon of chai tea mix to the water. Cover and lightly simmer for 5-10 minutes, depending on desired strength, then stir in 2 tablespoons of milk or non-dairy beverage and reheat to steaming. Strain into a mug and sweeten as desired.

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