Chai by Any Other Name?

homemade masala chai blend

Last year sometime, I found I had to go shopping for an inexpensive Chai mix, as my big glass jar from a now-defunct spice shop was sadly depleted. Lo and behold, I discovered that a jar of “Chinese Five Spice” seemed to have just the right mix for making Chai!

I revel in these late-life discoveries, though I always wonder why it took me so long to discover them. And I remember my mother’s joy when, pushing 90, one sunny summer day vacationing in northern Michigan, she finally gave in to my brother’s urgings to sample cappucino, and found a new minor thrill in life.

So, of course, I bought the jar of Chinese Five Spice, as it was much less expensive than any Chai mixture I’d found, and I took to scooping a teaspoonful of the mix into a pot of black tea for Chai, ready to embellish with honey and milk for a cozy treat.

Then, last month, I ran out of the Five Spice mix, and determined to make my own. Lo and behold again! In searching online for various mix proportions for Chai and for Chinese Five Spice, I discovered that Garam Masala is also basically the same spice blend. Life is sweet, indeed (and spicy).

Of course, everyone has his or her own version of these three amalgams, using different spices (even “five-spice” mixes with six or seven or eight different spices) as well as different proportions. I read up on Chai, Chinese Five-Spice, and Garam Masala, cruised a few dozen recipes, and then went shopping at my favorite spice shop (also, admittedly, my favorite shop for olives, nuts, fresh meats, and fresh fruits & veggies), Papaya Market. I needed to stock up on the ground spices I didn’t already have in sufficient supply. I didn’t want to grind my own spices this time, just in case my trusty little Braun grinder, which I use for spices and flax seeds, wasn’t up to all that work at once. I know the spices at Papaya Market are fresh and pungent.  The only change I’d like to make next time is adding a lot of star anise, which I can’t yet find locally.

Of course, once it was blended, I had to sample it as Chai (a.k.a. Masala Chai), and then package up some of it to share with five friends (if you didn’t get yours yet, just ask!). Here’s the current concoction:

Chai Masala a.k.a. Chinese Five-Spice a.k.a. Garam Masala

Make sure your spices are freshly ground and pungent. Thoroughly mix together these ground spices: 4 T cardamom, 3 T allspice, 3 T anise, 3 T cinnamon, 3 T ginger, 2 T black pepper, 2 T cloves. For Chai tea, mix with strong black tea (about one teaspoon per pot), real vanilla extract, honey (or sugar), and milk to taste. Mmmmmmmmm.


About Karen F. Dimanche Davis

Associate Professor and Director, Cultural Studies, Emerita, Marygrove College

Posted on February 26, 2012, in Food & Cooking, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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