If you’re reading this blog post, I’m going to assume that you got here from my Instagram account and if that’s the case, you will know that I’m a chai addict. I would have been the president of Chai Addicts Anonymous if it existed.
Growing up, I never needed or had coffee or chai. There was a point where I even disliked the smell of coffee. But if I had to choose, I went for chai even then. I also have fond memories of Appa ordering little chai kettles/flasks for the morning especially for me every time we went on a vacation because he knew I didn’t like coffee. Although I don’t remember appreciating or truly enjoying these (little) things then, thinking of it now is only bringing a big smile on my face and vague but varied visuals of places, guest houses and hotel rooms across Kerala and Tamil Nadu that we’ve been to and also of places in North India like Punjab and Rishikesh and not to forget an epic trip to Mussoorie where I saw snow for the first time ever.
It was only when I started working (over a decade ago, woah!) that I got used to having coffee or chai regularly since it was served to us on our tables and I felt bad saying no all the time to the Anna who used to bring it for us, always with a wide smile on his face. I also needed the caffeine fix to get through long work hours over time. As life and kids happened, I started finding comfort and solace in my daily cuppa and woke up earlier than the rest of the fam just so that I can have my chai and a few minutes of silence before the madness began each day. So that’s the story of how I went from no chai/coffee to few cups of chai a day to functioning on chai which is my life right now.
This also meant that I started having preference over how exactly I wanted my chai to be (strong, less sweet) and I also started experimenting with spices that went into my chai. I’ve made chai masala following various blogs and now finally have a recipe of my own that gives exactly the amount of warmth and joy from a cup of chai that I love and enjoy. So poetic, eh?
But it’s true. Over the past decade, the importance of chai in my life has increased exponentially. It’s what calms me down. It’s what perks me up. It’s what soothes me. It’s what comforts me. It’s what I turn to when I’m happy. It’s what I turn to when I’m sad. It’s basically just an all-in-one cure in my life.
Though milk tea/chai is my first preference most of the times, I’ve also learnt to have and enjoy non-milk teas over the course of these years and now I enjoy both my Sulaimani (or any other non-milk tea or tisane) and chai with the same fervor.
When I moved to the UAE 6.5 years ago, one of the first places my husband took me to was to a small cafeteria that served his favorite egg-parotta roll and karak. Soon we (or should I say I?) resorted to having this every chance I got irrespective of whether I had the parotta or not.
The karak in the UAE (or Middle East for that matter) is almost the same as our strong cardamom chai but for fact that its creamier and also has a lot more sugar added.
Although I enjoyed this a whole lot, I couldn’t have this everyday because of how much sugar it had and considering how easy it is to make at home, a lesser sugar version of it became a staple at home.
A couple of years ago, when in Delhi for vacation, I had this amazing green chili chai from a place called Chayoos. It’s also a regular feature at home now and more so when we’re unwell or have a cold and need something soothing for the throat.
I love making chai with green chili and ginger together. Red chili flakes work too. Or even cracked black pepper. If you don’t want/prefer as much heat in your chai, you can use cloves + nutmeg for something milder but soothing all the same.
Another absolute favorite spice I like to add to chai is black cardamom. It’s the easiest hack to get your chai to taste like tandoori chai. I prefer this over actual tandoori chai which I think is overrated.
Dried mint is another one that goes into our chai regularly. We had this at a place called Raju Omlet here in Dubai and when I first tried recreating it at home, I had made it with fresh pudina/mint. It didn’t quite taste as good and I later figured that the more concentrated minty taste came from dried mint leaves.
I’ve never truly liked green tea although I have forced myself to down cups of green tea in an attempt to be ‘healthy’ and to lose weight. Oh, to be young and stupid again (or not!).
But I’ve grown to like green tea with add-ons like lemon and mint or ginger. My preference for non-milk tea however is fruity and mildly floral teas with a hint of citrus or warming spices like cinnamon and cloves.
I also had the best non-milk teas when in Baku, Azerbaijan last year. They have this amazing practice where they have tea with jam. You eat a spoonful of jam, and take a sip of tea. The tea melts the jam in your mouth sweetening it as you drink. The berry and hibiscus teas were my absolute favorite there. I brought back so much tea and jam from there that one year later, I still have some left.
Now that I’ve successfully wasted your time with completely useless trivia about me and my obsession with tea, I’ll proceed to sharing the recipe of how you can make kickass karak chai at home, ok? Ok.
Emirati Karak or Karak gets its signature creaminess from evaporated milk or Rainbow Milk as its fondly called in this part of the world, Rainbow being the brand of the evaporated milk that’s widely used. It’s like how we call condensed milk Milkmaid in India.
Evaporated milk is nothing but milk with most of the water content removed thereby making it creamier and slightly darker in color. In other words, it’s condensed milk without the sugar.
Emirati Karak Chai
- 1c water
- 2.5-3t loose black tea
- 0.5t cardamom powder
- a fat pinch saffron (optional)
- sugar, to taste
- 1-1.5c evaporated milk or 1c evaporated milk + 0.5c regular milk
- Add the tea to water and bring to a boil.
- Add cardamom powder, saffron and sugar and boil it further.
- Add evaporated milk and bring to a boil again. Reduce flame and simmer for a few minutes after.
- Strain and serve hot.
- I know now isn’t the time to ask you to go looking for ingredients like evaporated milk. So if you don’t have it, feel free to substitute it with condensed milk (easier to get) and less/no sugar or just use regular milk with less water added.
- If you’re using regular milk, use full fat/full cream milk for best results.
- You can add any spice(s) of your choice. Cardamom and saffron are the classics.
- The given measurement makes two cups. You can easily double or triple the recipe as needed.
If you made it until here – I think it’s safe to assume you like me a little bit, so thank you for that. *happy tears*
I hope you make and enjoy some Karak wherever you are.