I have never had a better chai latte than at Mud Coffee, 307 East 9th Street, New York, NY. Unlike so many other vendors (Starbucks, I’m eyeing you worst of all), they don’t shy away from the strong spices, and the predominate taste isn’t milk — or rather, sweetened milk with some shy, first-time-away-from-home cinnamon and nutmeg briefly shaken in to justify the name. At Mud, there’s ginger, there’s cloves, there’s cardamom and allspice and you can taste it all, strongly.
I thought I might fare okay at Java House, the estimable local coffee shop with five locations around town, all congenial spaces (one has a fireplace!) with ample tables and couches for studying, chatting, or reveling in coffee snobbery. But alas, no. Not as bland as Starbucks, but it still left me with the usual suspects of complaints. I am truly a bore to be around. Then, a couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon a recipe promisingly entitled “Amazing Spiced Chai Concentrate.”
Well, hey! thought I, I like amazing things! And amazing chai most of all! So I gave it a whirl. I collected the spices we didn’t have on hand (anise star, cardamom) from the hippie co-op, which sells them in bulk at steeply reduced prices. I bought some run-of-the-mill black tea, figuring its lack of pedigree wouldn’t matter after all the spicing. I added all the stuff up top to a pot of boiling water, let it steep, sweetened it with brown sugar, vanilla, and honey, and strained it over a cheesecloth. A cheesecloth because I hate grit
and love complicating things.
The result was fabulous, with a happy ginger finish, far and away better than the milky mugs that go for almost $4 (gasp! yes, even here). It still wasn’t as satisfyingly strong and spiced as Mud’s, though, so after coming to terms with my draconian chai taste buds, I tinkered. I nixed the black pepper grinds for allspice berries, because I think they’re wonderful. I upped the cinnamon, the nutmeg (though you need not necessarily, if you’re using freshly ground unlike my prepackaged stuff), and the final swish of vanilla. N.B.: I’m considering swapping out the extract for a bean next time, and steeping it with all the other spices. If you’re brave enough to try, please report back! Finally, I dialed back the brown sugar, because it was giving itself airs, and let the whole thing steep for longer.
And kids, this is it. I think you should try this. I think it’ll convert you. Permanently, forever and always.
Spiced Chai Concentrate
(Adapted from Tasty Kitchen)
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 1/2-inch thick coin of ginger, smashed
- 4 whole cardamom pods
- 1 whole star anise
- 5 whole cloves
- 5 allspice berries
- 1 tsp pre-ground nutmeg (or 1/2 tsp freshly shaved)
- 1 tsp orange peel, grated or peeled
- 5 black tea bags
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags and spices. Let steep 20 minutes. Strain and add the brown sugar, honey, and vanilla. Return to heat briefly until sugar dissolves and strain.
To make a latte, combine one part concentrate with one part hot milk. (More of one or the other to taste.) Enjoy!