Thursday, September 22, 2011

I have a kitten.  Her name is Chai.  (Well, technically, our family has three cats, but this one kitten I am speaking of, specifically, I view as all mine.  She doesn't realize this and instead favors my son.  Oh well.  You win some, you lose some.)    Her name is Chai because she matches, exactly, the color of my favorite beverage on the entire plant, Chai tea latte.  We tried on other names for size.  But, we kept coming back to Chai.  And, it's all good because her coloring is what landed her in my arms on the day I laid eyes on her.  She was all alone in her crate, patiently waiting for a home.  Her siblings, all bright orange, had been adopted months earlier.  I couldn't resist that lovely, creamy coloring and her eager little eyes and had to hold her.  Once I got her in my arms, forget-about-it.  Her lovable personality meant there was no question whether or not she would be going home with me to become my (son's) kitten.

My kitten, Chai

I am not going to go so far as to say I have a problem, but when you see a kitten and have to have it, in part, because it reminds you of your favorite beverage, there might be something just every so slightly amiss.  This was a bit of a light bulb moment for me.  As someone who aims to be self-reliant and detests paying retail for most things (killer shoes being an obvious exception), I realize I do have a problem.  The problem is how much cash I am shelling out, day after day, to support my habit.  And, that I don't even really know what's in their concentrate.  And, so, the research began...

Now, I should mention that this is not the first time I have attempted this.  My first attempt, where I read the ingredients on the back of a box of concentrate and tried to guess how much of each spice was included, was an utter failure.  G-R-O-S-S.  My second attempt was an herb mix assembled by my favorite herb supplier, Smith and Truslow.  It was definitely better.  More balanced.  But, not enough for me to break my habit.  It was still missing something.  It should be noted that before I used the mix, I actually opened the packet and counted each individual spice so that I could then make the mix on my own in the future.  I was not about to go from relying on one manufacturer to relying on another.  Then, I stumbled upon this recipe which led me to this recipe.  Bingo!

And, I was off!  Here's how it went down in my kitchen:

Chai Tea Concentrate
(adapted from TastyKitchen and A Wooden Nest)
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 pieces of dehydrated ginger
  • 7 whole cardamom pods
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean, slice, separate the seeds from the pod and add both to the mix
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 10 bags of Darjeeling tea
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • pinch of kosher salt (optional)
Gather the spices and prep any that require prepping.  Combine the spices and tea bags in a bowl.  Do not add the honey to this bowl.  Bring the water to a boil.  Once it is boiling, remove it from the heat and add the bowl of spices and tea.  Allow this mixture to steep for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, strain the spices from the liquid.  Compost the spices.  Add the honey to the liquid and stir well.  You can store this mixture for 7 days in a jar in the refrigerator.  After 7 days, freeze any unused concentrate in an ice cube tray.  You can use ice cubes of concentrate in place of fresh until they are gone or 6 months has passed, whichever comes first.

With that, you have your basic Spiced Chai Concentrate.  What you don't have is the sweet component.  If you are a lover of Chai tea, then you know sweet is a critical component.  I wanted to be able to vary my sweet from day to day.  Therefore, I elected to leave a sweetener out of the concentrate.  This way, on any given day, I can add one of the following to my Chai Tea Latte to sweeten it to taste:
  • Agave Nectar
  • Honey
  • Stevia Extract
  • Brown Sugar (any variety, raw or otherwise)
  • White Sugar
  • Organic Maple Sugar 
  • Dulce De Leche (oh yeah!)
Really, the sky is the limit here, folks.  Another benefit to leaving sweeteners out of the concentrate is that you can use this concentrate to flavor baked goods, ice cream base, custard base, smoothies, etc., without resulting in something overly sweet.  However, if you decide you want to sweeten your concentrate from the  onset, I would start with 1/2 cup sugar equivalent and add more from there according to your preferences.

Chai Tea Latte
Mix 1 part concentrate with 1 part milk and sweeten with any of the above sweeteners to taste.  If you want a warm latte, you can heat it gently.  For a cold latte, just add ice.

I was really impressed with the flavor of this concentrate.  It was delicious.  And, the ingredients to make it cost me $20 and I have plenty left to make more concentrate.  Much better pricing than buying it from the store or Starbucks.  Best part about this concentrate, all of these ingredients can travel.  There have been times over the years where we have traveled to a place that did not have a Starbucks.  Because I was reliant on their concentrate, I would be out of luck and missing my favorite morning starter.  Well, free at last!  Now, I can package up a batch of these spices (I will aim for dehydrated orange peel in this case) and make it anywhere where I have access to hot water and fresh milk.  From now on, while away from home, the only thing I will miss is the kitten.  (Actually, I will miss all three.  They're so cute!)

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