TREAT TUESDAY: Easy Chai (Splash of Holiday Cheer Optional!)

Real Simple magazine's Easy Chai is a warm, spicy addition to your holiday season.

I’m taking a brief respite from the baked treats this week (because Lord knows I’ll be up to my rooftop with those in another week or two!) to share a great drink recipe, one which is perfect for spicing up these cold days and nights we’ve been having lately.

Real Simple’s Easy Chai recipe  is one of my go-to drinks during this time of the year for when I don’t want coffee, tea just seems too boring, and hot chocolate way too rich. Creamier and much more exotic than a plain hot cider drink, this chai has that special something that you might be looking for when other hot beverages just don’t sound as tempting, and tempting is what this chai is. Whether it’s the blend of ginger root and cinnamon or the pep of the black peppercorns combined with clove and cardamom, something in this drink always has me going back for more.

Oh and speaking of tempting, as C saw me whipping up my latest batch of chai the other afternoon, he quickly unlocked the liquor cabinet and brought up four bottles. I love the way my man thinks! Below is our mixology report, in pictorial form, on what worked nicely and what was a plain old fail. See, I’m always looking out for you so you don’t make the same mistakes I do, RMT’ers!

First up was the Martell XO. Yes, a bit fancy and probably what we should NOT have started with, as it most definitely biased our palette for the rest of the tastings. Needless to say, this was a real winner – as it should be for more than $100 retail! Luckily our bottle was a very nice gift from a very nice colleague of C’s (thanks again, and stop by anytime!).

Next we have Cointreau. To me, this was a very close second, and thank god because, well, it is much more affordable should we burn through the bottle anytime soon. The orange flavor definitely goes nicely with the clove notes of the chai.

We also tried a basic triple sec, but I do not recommend this, as it was too overpowering to the other spices in the chai drink, and WAY too sweet. Then again, that’s how I feel about triple sec to begin with, so there.

The Crème de Menthe also was a big no-no. The minty flavor didn’t work well with these particular spices, and the color also was not appetizing in the least.

After those four bottles (and after dinner), I pulled one more bottle for tasting, and C pulled one more himself. Here are those results.

C’s final choice was DOM B&B Liqueur . It’s generally known as Benedictine, which is a blend of spiced French liqueur and fine cognac. Frankly, this gives the other high-end cognac we tried a run for its money because of both the additional spiced element herein and for its much more reasonable price. Thanks to our sister-in-law’s parents, who brought this nice bottle as a gift at Thanksgiving, and thanks to this chai recipe for giving us another reason to enjoy it more often, too!

Finally I tried a house “rhum vanille” from a restaurant we ate at on a beach in Grand Cul-de-Sac, Saint-Barth. This is a bottle that we’ve had since our honeymoon (read: long, LONG time), but the flavor is just as true as to the day we had it out on that secluded beach long ago. This choice wasn’t as complimentary to the spiced nature of the chai at the base, but it did sweeten the drink up nicely (think spicy but sweet hard candy finish). If I were to use this again, I’d probably skip the sugar first just to see how it mixes with the base chai without the additional sweetener.

TIP: If you aren’t partial to booze, try mixing the guts of a small vanilla bean into the batch of the chai in Step 2 below as a natural sweetener option in lieu of or in addition to the sugar. While I’ve not yet tried it, this is on my to-do list when I have a vanilla bean on hand (Trader Joe’s has them now in a two-pack, by the way… guess it’s time to pick some up!).

Cheers!

Easy Chai, with sugar on the side. Add to taste. Cheers!

Easy Chai
Adapted from Sara Quessenberry, Real Simple, March 2010

Ingredients:
8 cardamom seeds
8 cloves
4 black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
4 bags black tea (such as Darjeeling)
8 teaspoons sugar or more, to taste
OPTIONAL: 2 oz. booze of your choice (see options above in write-up)

Directions:
1. Place the cardamom, cloves, and peppercorns in a resealable plastic bag and crush with a heavy skillet.

2. Place the crushed spices in a medium saucepan, along with the cinnamon sticks, ginger, milk, and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add the tea bags, cover, and let steep for 10 minutes.

My metal funnel with a small strainer inset worked perfectly for the straining of the chai post-steeping. I strained as I ladled each cup, but you could strain into a carafe or teapot and serve from there as well.

3. Strain into cups. To each cup, add 2 teaspoons sugar or more, to taste. (Personally I don’t prefer a lot of sugar in this myself, so dash lightly to find your flavor.). Serve hot or over ice.

OPTIONAL: For hot drinks, add a splash (½ oz.) of the booze of your choice (see above options) per serving, either in lieu of or in addition to the added sugar.

Makes four 1-cup servings.

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