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The Best Vegan Chai Tea In Minneapolis

Here's how to make the vegan chai tea I love so much.  This is seriously the best chai tea that you can get anywhere, and here is how you can make it in your own kitchen, with nothing but the tools you already have lying around your house.  You can serve it hot or cold. There are two ways of making it, either vegetarian/vegan with rice or coconut milk, or traditional with real milk.

It's really a pretty easy and forgiving process, you mash up some spices and slice some ginger root, simmer them in water, add tea, milk and sugar, filter and then you're done.  I go into way too much detail on what works 'best' below, but I'm really trying to make it as good as possible, not just bang something out. 

It's kind of like my way of doing web programming - you could just do 'a website' and call it good, or you could look in detail at every tiny aspect of the site and how it works together, working to make the best possible website.  I'm a perfectionist, so it's always the best that I strive for.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 2-3" piece of ginger root (to taste)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 14 cardamom pods
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 piece ginseng root (optional)
  • 8 bags of black tea (I use Earl Grey)
  • 2 cups rice milk (or real milk if you're not making the vegan version)
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar

Utensils

  • Large pot with lid
  • Plastic ziploc bag
  • Hammer
  • Mortar and Pestle (in place of plastic bag and hammer)
  • Flat spoonish thing with holes
  • Ladle or other scooping utensil
  • Press-pot coffee maker (aka French Press) or other straining apparatus

Preparation

1) Put water in pot, start heating it up on high heat, covered

boiling-pot-side.jpg

3) Place the next 4 (or 5, if using ginseng) ingredients in plastic bag and pound with hammer.

I typically do pepper and cloves together, then add the cardamom, then the cinnamon.  Each needs a different amount of grinding, and this allows me to hit them properly with the hammer without some getting over pounded, and others getting under pounded.

  1. Black peppercorns - I like to just break apart each corn, don't pound these too much or you will end up with very spicy / hot chai
  2. Cloves - I pound these into nearly dust.  They will disintegrate in the boiling process, anyway, the key is to not use too many cloves.  Typically the rule is 1 clove per cup of water.
  3. Cardamom - I just break the pods apart to get the seeds loose.  You don't want to break apart the seeds or you will end up with very bitter flavor, rather than sweet
  4. Cinnamon Sticks - I use the side of the hammer to break these into thin strips about 3/4" - 1", by about 1/16" to 1/8" wide.  You don't want to break these up too much.  Also, it's worth noting that while you may think you could use cinnamon powder instead of sticks, you can't.  It just doesn't dissolve right, and it gums up the filter on the french press when you strain the mixture.
  5. Ginseng Root - I just break this up as much as possible.  The dried stuff that I get from United Noodle is really hard, and takes some real pounding to break apart.  Some of it ends up powdered, some ends up in 1/4" sized chunks.  It adds a little bit of a metallic zing to the chai, and gives it more of a kick than just tea will do.

4) Pour contents of bag into the water, give a good stir.  It should be getting close to simmering by now.


5) Optional - open the tea bags if individually wrapped.  This keeps you near to the water and gives you something to do while waiting for it to boil.  Typically about the time I set out the eighth tea bag, the water is boiling.


6) Reduce heat as soon as the water starts boiling, keep at a low rolling simmer.  Lid should be partially cracked to allow steam to escape, but not too much steam.


7) Low boil for 10 minutes


8) Turn off heat

9) Add black tea. 

The tea is preferably Darjeeling, but I've found just about any black tea will do.

steeping-1.jpg

10) Steep for 5 minutes

11) Remove tea bags

12) Use big slotted spoon to strain

Try to get out as much of the ginger root and other ingredients as possible.  This is kind of optional, but makes the next step easier.

13) Add brown sugar and rice or regular milk.

This is really to taste, you can also add coconut, soy or almond milk.  The vanilla flavors add a little extra to it as well.  Some people even leave the milk out of this step entirely and simply add it when they go to drink each glass.

  1. If using non-dairy milk, simply stir until the brown sugar is completely dissolved
  2. If using regular milk, heat up the chai again until just almost ready to boil again, but not actually to boiling.  You just want to get the milk to thicken a little bit.  If you take it too far, the milk will curdle a little bit and make little floaters.  This is one reason I use rice milk.

adding-brown-sugar.jpg

14) Using ladle (or other scooping device) scoop chai tea into press-pot

15) Strain into pitcher or other container for storage if not drinking right away. 

I use the carafe from my old toddy cold-press coffee maker, even though it says 'not for hot liquids'.  You probably shouldn't do this, even though it is shown in the photo.

filtering-process.jpg

16) Pour chai tea into cup, drink and enjoy. 

You can drink it warm or cold, I usually microwave each glass of mine but keep it in the fridge.  In the summer I drink it cold, often over ice.

Obviously, it's step number 16 that is the most important!

finished-product.jpg

Photo Credit:

Big thanks to Anthony Kwan aka khc1013 for taking the photos for this page.

Updated Recipe for Large Batches

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1.8oz of ginger root (to taste)
  • 3/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 12-14 whole cloves
  • 2 heaping tsp cardamom pods
  • 4-5 cinnamon sticks, or .5oz cinnamon chips
  • 1 piece ginseng root (optional)
  • 1/4 cup loose leaf Earl Grey tea
  • 2 cups rice milk (or real milk if you're not making the vegan version)
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar (for 100% vegan) or brown sugar

Utensils

  • Large pot with lid
  • Mortar and Pestle (in place of plastic bag and hammer)
  • Bread Knife
  • Flat spoonish thing with holes
  • Ladle or other scooping utensil
  • Large (about 1 gallon) pitcher
  • Strainer with very fine mesh

Process Modifications

For the most part, the process is quite similar. 

  • You will want to grind the spices to the same consistency shown above, but by using the mortar and pestle you save on bags and your neighbors don't get annoyed by constant hammering.
  • I have not been as worried about super thin slicing of the ginge. Also, using a kitchen scale helps to keep things consistent. I've been using a bread knife to slice as well, which is much better at cutting the heavy root.
  • The loose leaf tea makes it a lot simpler to toss in, you don't have to undo a lot of teabags. It's also fresher and cheaper, which is another bonus. AND it's less waste into the landfill. So much win.
  • It's a much larger pot. This means that the time to get up to temp is a lot longer. I have actually taken the time to figure out approximately how long it takes to get to boiling. So when I start, the timer on my stove is set to 16 minutes. This keeps it from getting to a really high boil. If you boil it too heavily, then the lighter spices will be tossed up and stick to the sides of the pot above the water. Then they don't flavor the mix and it ends up sub-par.
  • Straining is a lot different and quicker. With a really large pitcher (it is plastic, but the hot stuff is in there only about a minute, or less) and the strainer, it's just a matter of putting those two on the floor and pouring the mix into it when done. I place a towel under it to catch overspray. Also, I use dishwashing gloves to prevent a bit of the heat on my hands. When it has all been poured, I tap the stuff in the strainer into the garbage. Then scoop the material left in the pot into the garbage as well with my hands. This will be quite hot still, so the gloves are very important. You may want to use something heavier like silicone oven mitts if you are sensitive to heat. A quick rince of the last bits in the sink, and then the mixture is poured back into the pot slowly to prevent more spilling. 
  • I've noticed that the 'low boil' can vary a lot, even when you think the stove is set to the same heat as the last batch. The biggest thing seems to be how much of a gap the lid has. If it's quite large, you need more heat to keep the boil going. This will also result in a slightly stronger tea, as more of the water will evaporate during this stage. A narrower gap and lower temp will give you more tea, but it won't be as strong.
  • I think that the turbinado sugar (in addition to being 100% vegan) makes for a tastier chai. It doesn't have the molasses taste that straight brown sugar does.
  • It makes just a bit over a gallon when the milk is added. That's a bit much for my pitcher (though it fits before adding it) so I drink a couple of cups before pouring it back in. Since it's a plastic pitcher, I let it cool down completely before I do that. During the winter, I can just place it outside in the snow, and in the summer I can often fit it on the top shelf of my fridge. You want to make very sure not to pour hot tea into a plastic container and leave it there. It won't melt, but it will probably leech a lot of icky chemicals into the liquid.
Those are basically the differences. I will try to get pictures of the new process up soon, I thought I had them already uploaded but did not, and I no longer have them on my phone.
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