Iconic Indian eatery Dishoom knows good chai. Luckily for us, they have very generously shared their classic recipe for you to make at home, as well as giving an insight into the long history of this much-loved treat. Sweet, delicious, and good for the soul.
There are many varieties of chai. The kind we make at Dishoom is the sort of spicy, sweet chai you will find at Bombay’s innumerable tapris (street stalls), normally poured with great dexterity and skill from arm’s length into a small, stout glass.
The powerful concoction of milk, sugar and caffeine is what keeps the city running. Were the tea supply suddenly to dry up, it’s entirely possible that Bombay would simply grind to a halt. (It was rumoured in Bombay in the 1890s that Iranis were putting opium in their chai, such was its addictive nature. There was a fearsome activist called Sooderbai Powar, who agitated greatly against this alleged practice. Of course, the Iranis were far too astute to sell opium at the price of chai.)
Chai is also a staple of all Indian homes. It reminds Shamil of leisurely Sunday mornings with family. His father and grandfather used to love their chai. His aunt makes it with a few leaves of mint and a little lemongrass, which is how Parsis tend to brew it. Feel free to experiment, of course. (By the way, chai simply means “tea”. For this reason, you must never say “chai tea”.)
Here’s how to make it
2 tbsp loose Assam or Darjeeling tea, or 3 English breakfast teabags
12 slices of fresh root ginger
1½ tsp black peppercorns
12 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
50g granulated white sugar
500ml whole milk
1. Put the tea, ginger and spices into a saucepan, pour on 1 litre boiling water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer until you can smell the spices, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the sugar and milk, turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Allow 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (A skin will form, but this is strained off at the end.) Taste to see if the chai is to your liking; boil a little more if you wish for a stronger flavour. Patience will be rewarded!
3. Strain, discard the solids, and serve immediately.
Some of the many ways to enjoy chai…
Irani chai uses condensed milk. Sweet and milky, it is best for dunking buttered bread and baked goods into.
Badshahi chai A portion fit for a king, served in a much larger glass and using a higher proportion of milk.
Doodhpati chai No water, just milk.
Noon chai With an added pinch of salt.
Kali chai Black (no milk).
Kitchen chai Very strong, very sweet (drunk by the bucket-load by Dishoom chefs).
Khada chamuch So sweet that the spoon stands up in the cup.