With fall officially upon us, cafés, restaurants and grocery store shelves are filling up with a certain fall flavor: Pumpkin Spice. From pumpkin spice cookies to pumpkin spice cream cheese to the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte that started this whole mad movement.
But if I may make a bold suggestion, dear reader: let go of the gourd, squish the squash, dump the pump(kin). Honestly, does it really taste like pumpkin anyway? Not really. The real stars of the show are the spices themselves – and they have been spicing up your beverages for much longer than big chain coffee companies have been peddling their PSLs.
What do I mean by this? Why, chai, of course. Masala Chai, to be specific. Some legends say this spiced tea was first created by a king of a long-lost Indo-Asian empire about 9,000 years ago. Stories say he dabbled in Ayurvedic medicine, and created this complex blend of spices as a tincture to help cleanse and invigorate. Another story says it was the chef of a king (lots of legends revolve around kings, it seems), who wanted to impress the king’s guests. They were so awed by the concoction, it is said, that the king forbade the chef from divulging the recipe. Eventually the king died, and kings are known to do, and the chef revealed his tight-held secret, spreading the recipe far through the land.
More likely, however, is that the origins of Masala Chai come from one particular group of people: grandmothers. In India, grandmothers are the primary caretakers of the house, and when someone gets sick, they do what was done to them by their grandmothers (who did what was done by their grandmothers): bust out the Masala spices, milk and jaggery (a type of unrefined sugar). This blend of bark, seeds and roots has long been thought of as a tonic to treat any number of ailments. Luckily, it’s delicious too!
Of course, early chai recipes lacked one central ingredient: tea. Tea was not widely manufactured in India until British merchants set up plantations in Assam around 1835. It quickly became a staple in every household, and it wasn’t long before it became incorporated into grandmothers’ remedies. With this perfect combination finally in place, Masala Chai took the world by storm. It is still one of the bestselling tea items in any coffee shop.
Our version of Masala Chai, which we call Kama Chai Sutra (‘cuz it has a little extra ‘spice’), is a blend of Assam black tea mixed with cardamom seeds, clove buds, cinnamon bark, ginger root and vanilla beans. It is great steeped by itself, but if you want to get a bit more traditional, a latte is the way to go. Here’s how to make it:
2 cups water
2 cup whole milk
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. Kama Chai Sutra
In a small saucepan, bring water, milk and sugar to a boil. Remove pan from heat and add the loose tea. Cover and let steep for at least 5 minutes (or up to 7 minutes, if you prefer a stronger brew). Strain the mixture into a warmed teapot or directly into teacups.
Truly a blend to make kings proud and put pumpkins to shame!