Masala Chai Recipe

This is my recipe for masala chai, or Indian spiced milk tea. I sometimes get a craving for something satisfyingly warming, and full-flavoured and this really hits the spot with gingerbread spices infused into a cup of milk tea.

pouring chai

 

Ingredients:

Milk – 500ml

Water – 500ml

Black Tea – 2 teabags. I recommend using a tea that you wouldn’t consider very high quality for this considering that it is going to be added to milk and spices and boiled quite aggressively. So for once, I am actually going to sanction teabags

Sugar or whichever sweetener you prefer to taste

Spices:

Cloves – 2 or 3

Cinnamon – 1 stick

Cardamom – 1 or 2 pods

Optional:

Ginger (dried or fresh) – half a slice or a half teaspoon

Star Anise around 1/4 of a star

Black Peppercorns – 6 peppercorns

Mace and fennel seeds are also sometimes added.

You can adjust the above quantities depending on your preference.

Equipment:

Pestle and Mortar (if you will grind your own spices)

Saucepan

Recipe:

Step 1: In a pestle and mortar, grind down all of the spices. It is up to you whether to grind them coursely or finely.

cloves

Step 2: Add all of the spices to a dry saucepan. At this point, you can either toast them for a few minutes by turning on a medium heat and swirling the pan occasionally or you can directly add the rest of the ingredients.

Step 3: Let the mixture boil up and rise, and then turn down the heat or lift the pan, to let the mixture down again. Do this three or four times.

Step 4: Strain into cups, or glasses or pour into a teapot to serve. Masala chai is more flavourful, and rounded when it is homemade.

As there are many recipes for masala chai, let me know how you like yours.

 

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High Mountain Oolongs Part 3 of 3

The central part of the island of Taiwan, Nantou and Chiayi counties, is where high mountain teas are grown, on the following mountain ranges: Hehuanshan, Alishan, Lushan, which is where our black and green teas come from, Wu She, and Lishan, Shan Li Xi and Da Yu Ling, the last three all on the same mountain range. Lishan oolong is grown at around 2,200m above sea level (7217ft), and produced the most expensive tea in the 2000s at around $200 per 600g. 600g or 1 jin (斤) in Taiwan is a traditional unit of measurement for weight.  Each mountain has its own flavour from differences in the terroir, which includes things such as soil, drainage, weather and mist that relate to the location. When I was first learning about teas and heard the names of these mountains I thought that they each stood on their own, but actually they are more like interconnecting mountain ranges, as we could drive from one to another without going down to sea level. A few years ago on ground level in the town of Puli, I remember that I was surprised to see signs pointing to these different mountain ranges. When we actually got there, the mountains looked very similar to each other with narrow roads, and the same almost jungle-like vegetation coating the sides of the mountain ranges, as well as stunning views over valleys to high, distant blue-green peaks in the distance and white rocks on river beds, with small villages and farms at the bottom.

There are two main harvests for high mountain tea, are winter and spring. Winter teas have a lower yield as they are harvested in November and December during the middle of domancy and are rich, full-bodied and balanced. Spring teas are harvested between March and May and have a larger yield. They taste more aromatic and floral after the dormancy period. However, the nature of the teas seem to be increasingly decided by factors that occur during each individual growing season, rather than simply defined by whether the tea was harvested in winter or spring. However, Spring teas seem to be more naturally popular for their fragrance and flavour whereas Winter teas are more expensive due to smaller yield but in demand in Taiwan for Chinese New Year gifts.

High Mountain Oolongs Part 2 of 3

High mountain tea gardens tend to be small as tea farms go, at under 5 acres (217,800 square feet, around 2 hectares, or 20,234.3 square metres). As a result of a high altitude and small farms with a selective picking style, which is 2 or 3 leaves on the stem, there is a low yield of high mountain tea each year, and so they tend to be expensive.

The processing of high mountains teas is characterised by their being shaken on trays much less than for traditional oolongs, the heating step to stop oxidation (kill-green) is completed sooner and they have little to no roasting. High mountains teas are still hand-picked however, with three or four leaves and the stem. Some people think that any stem found in tea is a bad sign and will lead to bitterness, but for an oolong, it is important to include the stem so that the water can escape. It also allows you to see the picking style when the leaves expand on being brewed.

The tea farms are grown on the side of the mountain, and so tend to include steep paths on either side of the levels of rows of tea bushes, which grow on their own flat strip, so the effect is a little like a staircase. I was surprised when we first sourced tea that the farms were so steep as I had thought that all tea farms were flat, or on gently undulating ground. At a high altitude in Taiwan the reality is that the farms are very steep. You need a bit of a head for heights and occasionally for climbing too, as there don’t tend to be stairs and occasionally not much of a path between levels . Stairs have been built at Alishan but I suspect that those were built for the benefit of tourists.

Image: Copyright © 2018 Chessers Tea

Ochazuke Recipe – tea poured over rice

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Ochazuke is a quick small meal or snack in Japanese cuisine. It is basically tea or stock poured over rice with accompanying ingredients. It can be made with instant packets and hot water, but here is a simple recipe that can be made using our Powdered Green Tea.

Ingredients for 1 serving:

ingredients

1 small bowl of cooked rice. I used brown rice but you can use white rice if you prefer

1 spring onion / scallion / green onion

2 dried shiitake mushrooms

a thumb’s length piece of courgette / zucchini

Optional: a small piece of nori seaweed

Tea mixture for pouring over:

1 teabag Chessers’ Powdered Green Tea

A third of a cube of Japanese dashi stock (see note at the end), or a couple of good pinches of dashi powder, or a third of a mug of dashi stock.

Method:

Step 1: Clean the shiitake mushrooms by quickly rinsing them in water or wiping with a damp cloth. Break them into smaller pieces if they are whole, and put them into a small bowl of water to rehydrate.

Step 2: Slice up the courgette and spring onion.

Step 3: Brew the teabag of Powdered Green Tea in a mug with hot but not boiling water (around 80C) for around 1 minute or so and then discard the teabag.

Step 4: Take the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms out of the water and keep the water for later.

Step 5: Fry the courgette and the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms in oil, and after a couple of minutes, add the spring onions. I tend to use a medium-high heat.

Step 6: Take the water the mushrooms had been soaking in and add to the tea you made. The ratio should be roughly 1:2 mushroom stock:tea. Keep aside any extra liquid to add according to taste. Add the dashi. Stir and adjust seasoning and ingredients to your liking.

Step 7: On top of a bowl of newly cooked hot rice, put the courgette mixture and then pour over the tea mixture. Place the nori seaweed in the edge of the bowl.

It is now ready to serve.

Note: Dashi stock is a Japanese stock, which classically contains fish flakes, and kombu seaweed. There are also vegetarian versions available that contain use just seaweed, or seaweed in combination with shiitake mushrooms.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

High Mountain Oolongs Part 1 of 3

One of the most famous teas in Taiwan is gao shan cha 高山茶 (káu.ʂán tsǎ), literally high mountain tea. High mountain teas refer to oolongs that are grown at a high altitude, at over 1000m (around 3280ft) above sea level, shaped into a ball, lightly oxidised. Although they are very well known, they only became popular in the 1980s. Farmers growing tea at high altitudes produce their teas in this style as it takes less time and skill to make. However, if they are made well, the high altitude produces very good teas.

In the case of Taiwanese high mountain tea, the tea farm will be on a mountainside at over 1000m (approximately 3280ft) above sea level. A high altitude in Taiwan is conducive to many factors that go towards a good tasting tea: high humidity; high precipitation; a lot of mist; thin, clear air; cooler temperatures and a big temperature difference between daytime and the evening. Mist aids tea as it helps to dapple the sunlight, thin air encourages the tea bushes to grow slowly, which produces a better flavour, and the big temperature difference in a day produces complexity.

High mountain teas can be described as having a crisp, fresh, clean, complex, floral and slightly sweet flavour, that lingers in the mouth, a sweet and fresh aroma, and a creamy texture. To tell that the tea is of fine quality, look for a fresh and fine taste that lasts a long time after drinking, and for the creamy texture. These indicate mineral content in the leaves and well-processed tea respectively.

Image: Copyright © 2018 Chessers Tea

Buying tea by the jin (斤)

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When buying tea in Taiwan, we had to use the traditional unit of measurement, the jin (斤) translated catty, which corresponds to 600g, instead of metric measurements which are widely used in Taiwan as well.

We may have used traditional units of measurement because we were in a rural area, dealing with an industry that was established before the introduction of the metric system, and has continued to be run on its own terms as most tea in Taiwan is sold domestically.

Apparently in town vegetable markets, traditional measurements are also used as well, which again suggests that where an industry is not international, the metric system is not used.

Incidentally, the quantity of 1斤 is different in different places, at around 605g in Hong Kong and 500g in Mainland China. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is 16两 (liang) to a 斤, but in Mainland China it is 10两 to a 斤. If you happen to buy directly from these three areas, please bear in mind that the weights are different.

Image: By Naval History & Heritage Command from Washington, DC, USA (2013.114.022 Scale, Pharmacy) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Gongfu Cha Tea Brewing

I wrote an article a long time ago on how to do Gongfu Cha Tea Brewing but I have decided to write another updated version.

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This setup includes a clay teapot, glass serving jug with metal sieve and two teacups. Not shown is the bowl for discarding waste water. You can use anything that will work.

Basic principles:

  • small brewing vessels (teapot) – 75ml (2.5oz) is about the right size for one person, 150ml (5oz) for two etc.
  • correspondingly small teacups
  • high leaf to water ratio
  • short brewing times
  • repeated infusions using the same tea leaves

If the teapot is too big, each person will drink more than one cup per infusion, too small and they will drink less than a cup per infusion. Gongfu cha works best if you have one or two cups per infusion.

In effect, it is drinking many small cups of tea, and tasting how the infusions develop over time. Drinking in this method, you will also drink a larger quantity of the tea liquor or tea soup as it is sometimes called, than if you were to drink the tea in a mug. It shows you how the leaves release their flavours gradually rather than all at once.

The minimum equipment that you will need:

  • high quality loose leaf tea
  • hot water
  • small tea brewing vessel: teapot, gaiwan – Chinese lidded cup with a saucer, something that is small, heatproof and that preferably has a lid.
  • small teacups: Chinese teacups, espresso cups
  • a bowl to dispose waste water into
  • a serving jug, called a chahai in Chinese
  • optional: sieve if the teapot does not have a filter. This is placed onto the chahai.

Gongfu cha can be done in many different ways, and made quite elaborate, decorative, and precise, by adding more equipment, decorations and steps. I am presenting here what I consider to be basic brewing technique, using minimal teaware.

 

Step 1: Preheat all the teaware. Pour hot water into the teapot, then from the teapot to the chahai, then into the cups, and finally dispose of it into the bowl.

Preheating.jpg

Step 2: Put the tea into the preheated teapot. The quantity of tea that you use will depend on the category of tea and how strong you like your tea. I used about 1/6 of the capacity of the teapot, you can use more or less if you wish. A smaller teapot will allow you to drink stronger tea using less leaf. As this point, you can give it a shake and smell the aroma. I used our Roasted Honey Black Tea, and the aroma was dark chocolate and baking spices.

Step 3 (Optional): Rinse the tea. I did not rinse this tea because it is organic but if you wish to rinse your tea: pour hot water into the teapot and immediately discard into the bowl. You can use this to preheat the chahai and cups again if you wish, before discarding.

Step 4: Brew the tea: put fresh water into the teapot, and brew the tea. The temperature of the water and the time to wait for will again depend on the category of tea. In this case, a relatively long brewing time is recommended, around a minute or so for the first brew.

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Step 5: Pour out and enjoy your first cup. Pour the tea out into the chahai, and then into the cups, and enjoy your tea. A sieve will catch any small fragments of tea leaves. The taste of this tea is toasty at first with the flavour of the roast, which then is replaced by a complex and fruity tastes as the infusions progress.

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Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 as many times as you wish, adding 30 seconds to a minute to the brewing time. If you find the tea too strong, you can reduce brewing time for the next infusion, and likewise if you find it too weak, you can increase brewing time, or even add more leaf.