Chai to Warm your Bones

January 29, 2011

In response to news from The North and in service to those enduring it–record cold, record snow–I’d like to help you keep warm… the tropical way.

Say what? Keep warm? Aren’t you warm all the time in Bali? Sure you’re warm the day you land. Make that hot, actually, swelteringly so. But that’ll change. Stay long enough at eight degrees south of the equator and the next thing you know you’re layering at night, avoiding fans like they’re the breath of Durga, and ordering lukewarm tea instead of iced to go with the goat satay you’re told will restore your flagging energy.

But I don’t eat goat. You do now. Haven’t you noticed how it restores your blood pressure in this heat, which has plummeted in an effort to acclimate you? And besides, the Kali Mas satay joint is near a cheap lighting store in Denpasar¬†where you’re on your way to pick up a dozen light sockets to install in your closets and cupboards, part of an ongoing campaign to halt a proliferation of mildew on your belts and shoes. The persistent fuzz is so abundant it has inspired you to verse. (Okay,¬†Ode to a Fungus won’t get you short-listed as the poet-laureate, but at least you amused yourself writing it.) And about that mildew on your pots and pans, it’s such a repudiation of everything they taught you about spores that you have elected to leave alone that freaky science experiment conducting itself in your kitchen.

So what about chai? You said you were blogging about chai. I was just getting to that. Nice sandals, by the way. I see you’ve learned what a chill you can get from going barefoot on floor tiles. It goes right to your bones, doesn’t it? Ginger’s a good antidote to that.

And that’s why you want me to make chai? Yes, you’re learning. That’s one reason I want you to make chai.

It also happens to be delicious.

Indian-spiced Chai


1 1/2 liters (6 1/2 cups) water

1 liter (a little over 1 quart) whole milk

6 English Breakfast tea bags, or 2 tablespoons loose tea. (Orange Pekoe is fine too)

80 grams (about 3 ounces) fresh, peeled ginger, lightly pounded

2 teaspoons green cardamom pods, lightly pounded

10 whole cloves

10 whole black peppercorns

1 5-cm (2-inch) cinnamon stick


Combine all the ingredients in a heavy-gauge saucepan and bring to a slow boil over medium heat. You may want to put the saucepan over a hotplate, like my rusty one in the picture above, to keep the milk from scalding on the bottom. Once the mixture has come to a boil, lower heat until it is simmering and cover. Continue simmering for one hour.

Remove from heat and strain. I like sugar in mine. You may too. And if you ever need evidence that spices are preservatives, you’ll be surprised how long this lasts in the fridge. Store it in a beverage container and just reheat as needed. Mine lasts at least a week as long as I start with fresh milk.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE: Harry, keep warm up there.



  1. Hailing from the frozen North, where another snow-inundation is on the way, I thank you for this recipe. It makes me feel warmer already.

     ~ Bobby, January 31, 2011 at 3:15 am.
  2. Karen,
    This is such a beautiful blog, love your writing and love your photos and thanks for sharing recipes. I was just looking for a chai recipe and here it is!

     ~ sue Winski, February 1, 2011 at 10:54 am.
  3. Sue, would love to know how it works out. Thanks for reading. Thanks for cooking!

     ~ Kitchen in Surgency, February 2, 2011 at 3:57 pm.
  4. Hi Karen,
    I made chai often last week as it was a bit cold in ubud in the night. I used simpler ingredients than yours, only ginger, cardamom, juniper berries and fennel seeds and using assam as my tea base and I boiled together sugar with the rest of ingredients.

     ~ eva, February 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm.
  5. Hi Eva, That’s what I love about something like Chai. We can all do it our way. I like that idea of juniper berries and fennel. Thanks for dropping in! Karen

     ~ Kitchen in Surgency, February 15, 2011 at 4:23 pm.
  6. Every Indian household has its own chai secrets. It’s also great with fennel seeds and tulsi the ‘super herb’ sacred basil from India. Beautiful blog.

     ~ Dipika, February 23, 2011 at 7:38 am.
  7. Dipika, that sounds yummy. Make me some!

     ~ Kitchen in Surgency, February 23, 2011 at 7:21 pm.

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