A few years ago I was working in Zanzibar, in a beautiful and fairly remote fishing village. Every morning, after my (extremely slow) beach run with Toni and before going to work, I had a cup of freshly made warm black chai made from spices grown on the island. The lemongrass was picked from the door step of the kitchen and brewed in a saucepan, which hung from a palm tree growing right through the middle of that kitchen. The local guys that made this delicious chai showed me how one morning, and this is how I remember it (although they didn’t use turmeric and never added sweetener or coconut milk – we had sugar and powdered milk on the table to add if we wanted.)
Now the smell and taste of cardamom – a spice used in so many of the local dishes – takes me back to Zanzibar more than any flavour or smell can take me anywhere. After three months of eating it everyday I’d definitely had enough of the overpowering flavour, but now I love it in my chai for nostalgia’s sake.
3 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 black tea bags
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 inch fresh turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks of lemon grass, bruised but not chopped
1 pinch nutmeg
5 cardamom pods
2 star anise
1 tsp black pepper corns
coconut milk (optional)
In a pestle and mortar crush the cardamom pods and cloves gently. They don’t need to be ground up, just slightly broken. Do the same to the lemongrass. Put all the ingredients (except honey and milk) in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes with a lid on until the flavours are really well infused. Add honey or agave to taste. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or muslin. If you’re adding coconut milk, froth it up a bit before adding it to the chai with a pinch of ground cinnamon on top.