If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I love chai latté. If you’re one of my Facebook Friends, then you definitely know (to the point of being sick of how often I mention I’m sipping one, consumed one somewhere, or got handed a surprise “to-go” cup that Bill picked up while out running errands). I sometimes mention sipping my latté along with some evening snack, or indulging in one instead of some munchies. When I head to a coffee house (like Starbucks) or a bookstore that houses a café (like Barnes & Noble), I will – 98 % of the time – order up this warm, comforting drink. When in B&N, I can spend an hour sipping chai while perusing books and/or magazines, deciding just which ones I might purchase.
Of course, it’s probably all about the cinnamon and nutmeg and similar flavor enhancing spices that I love – but then you’d know that too, if you know me at all.
After all the cookie recipes, I thought this was a good time to introduce readers to my homemade version of this drink since, while it might not be as sweet as what I buy at Starbuck’s or B&N, it’s also lower in sugar (which makes it a bit healthier). But then that’s the point, at least for me. I know many cafés (and B&N is one of them) use Tazo’s pre-mixed chai latte: 240 calories, 42g of sugar in a 16 oz. Grande order with 2% milk, which is great for the lower fat but what about that sugar? I could add a whole tablespoon of honey to my individual cup at home and only wind up with 16g of the stuff! Plus I wouldn’t be supporting a sugar addiction (to which I easily succumb and then struggle to once more put down!). Besides, I like the less-sugary brew – which doesn’t mean others couldn’t add more sweetner, mixing to their own taste.
I remember distinctly where I tasted my first chai latte. The when is what’s fuzzy, but I readily recall the who, where and how. I was meeting my friend Jan at Uncommon Grounds, a bagel/coffee place in Guilderland (with another location a bit further north, in Saratoga Springs), a suburb of Albany, NY. We were probably going to write together, or perhaps we were just “touching base” after not seeing each other for a while. Most likely it was at least five/six years ago. After selecting a table and getting ready to line up to order, I asked Jan what she planned to drink. “Chai latté,” she replied. I had to ask her exactly what a latté was! Everywhere you went by then, people were ordering lattés of one sort or another. All I knew was that they were more expensive than regular coffee or tea drinks, but were they worth it? I ordered; I tasted; I was conquered.
A couple years ago I decided I wanted to try making them at home, given the cost elsewhere – beyond $$$-wise (after all, what’s a few bucks if it’s only maybe a once-a-week treat?), there was also the fact that I rarely walk into a B&N without breaking any book-budget I might have fantasized about sticking to! So I looked up recipes on the internet, then decided that this is where the gadgetry is really an essential ingredient in producing a satisfactory result. I just wasn’t up for trying to entice foam from a dairy product with a hand whisk or an electric mixer. So I bought an Aerolatte milk frother. It looks like something a bar tender might use for some of those frothy drinks, and it works just fine – but can still be time-consuming for frothing. And you have to heat the milk separately.
Last year, while browsing in Bed, Bath & Beyond, I stumbled across the perfect tool for spinning milky foam into existence: a Capresso frothPRO. It’s electric and can produce froth from either cold or hot liquid. Not only that, it heats the stuff for you first. Just a matter of which button you push! I couldn’t afford to buy it right away but by fall it was in my hands. Since I can be a bit lazy about getting around to brewing any drink that gets too time-consuming (especially when I could be reading or writing), this was a major step in ensuring I might consume fewer of the sugar-filled cups at B&N (plus save extra cash getting spent on books… well, not so successful on this part…). It’s one of the best gadgets I’ve ever purchased (unlike the electric rice cooker, purchased at least a half-dozen years ago, that’s been used maybe twice).
One thing I learned, by the way, re frothing dairy: both the instructions that came with the Aerolatte device and the Capresso emphasize that milk products with less fat in them will foam better. I found an e-zine article that also touted this fact but, since I’m in the middle of reading a thoroughly absorbing book titled, Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Hervé This (Columbia University Press, 2002), I found myself wondering today if this scientist explored the theory that the lighter and airier texture of non-fat and lower-fat milks contributes to its whipping up better than, say, whole milk or light cream. In his Essay #41, “Foams,” This does conclude, “The stability of foams depends on the arrangement of the proteins at the interface between the water and air.” But it turned out that he wasn’t addressing the “froth” of lattés at all, only the fancier foams popular today in today’s nouveau cuisine. Still, that “water and air” caught my eye and I will eventually do more hunting on the topic via the internet. I’m no scientist but curiosity sometimes takes over…
Now, the recipe. So simple. So delicious.
MARILYN’S CHAI LATTÉ COMFORT
Yields at least 2 drinks (if you re-use the teabag[s]a second time)
- A milk-frothing gadget of some sort (see info in above narrative re frothers)
- Tall “mugs” for the tea.
- Steeped chai tea, hot (if I don’t have any Stash brand Double Chai tea in the house, I’ll use other teas, such as Stash Chai, Stash Green Tea Chai, or Tazo Organic Chai – but if not Double Chai, then I use two teabags per tall cup) – steep to the degree of chai flavor you desire (minimum of four minutes, in my opinion)
- Milk or cream (best for frothing: low-in-fat or fat-free), up to 8 oz. depending on how many drinks you’re making
- honey, minimum of 1 teaspoon (but sweeter if preferred)
- cinnamon (to sprinkle; as usual, my preference is Roasted Saigon Cinnamon)
- nutmeg (to sprinkle, even less than the cinnamon; fresh-ground is best but ready-ground is fine)
- Note: Your steeped tea should take up only ⅔ to ¾ of your cup (to allow space for foam).
- Add honey to the chai tea and stir. (I usually add the honey while it’s still steeping, then stir after removing teabags, squeezing out last drops of liquid.)
- While tea is steeping, follow instructions that come with your frothing gadgetry to produce froth. For example, Capresso instructs that the user should never fill the frother with more than 8 oz. of milk. (If you’re using the Capresso, it will automatically shut off when the milk is heated and frothed, another convenience. Otherwise, you’re on your own just watching the level of froth.)
- Slowly pour/spoon the foamy stuff on top of your chai tea. There may still be some liquid under the froth, and it’s okay to let some of that seep into the cup; but remember you can also go back and froth it up some more for that second cup!
- Sprinkle the foam with a dash of cinnamon and an even smaller (pinch) of nutmeg.
Enjoy. (I even run my finger along the empty cup’s sides to get the last of that foam into my mouth!)