When my husband, Jay and I went to northern India last fall, we weren’t expecting much of a cocktail or spirits scene (and it’s a good thing, because it turns out there isn’t one). There are a few Indian whiskies, such as Amrut, but they are sparsely distributed, hard to find and were expensive.
Instead I fell in love with another beverage: masala chai tea. And not the powdery, manufactured kind you get at Starbucks, but the homemade with-a-recipe-from-a-mom kind. From Delhi to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, to the villages and charming towns of Rajasthan, masala chai is offered EVERYWHERE. Especially when you’re shopping in a store, it is customary for a salesperson to offer you a seat and a masala chai. Some days, particularly in the holy city of Pushkar, we’d have several (small) masala chais in a day. It replaced coffee in the mornings. It was a pick-me-up instead of a snack in the afternoon.
We became so obsessed with masala chai that I asked one of our guides, Govinde, for his mom’s recipe so we could recreate it at home. He recited it by memory (thank you Govinde’s mom, Sajjan Shrame, for teaching him well). To have a little bit more fun with it though, I decided to add booze. Aged rum is a natural match for masala chai because of their shared baking spice notes (in case you were wondering, “masala” means spiced). What I found was that this masala chai recipe is on the drier side, and when mixed with a rum commands a little simple syrup for mouthfeel and balance. When making the recipe below, you can either serve it warm like a toddy, or over ice in nice weather.
Make a Masala Chai Cocktail
Makes 2 drinks
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 tablespoons black tea
1 tsp crushed whole ginger
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp tulsi (otherwise known as “holy basil.” If you can’t find this, you can omit it)
1 cinnamon stick
3 ounces aged rum
1 1/2 ounces simple syrup
Cinnamon stick or orange peel for garnish
To make masala chai: boil water, then add the black tea. Let steep. Add ginger, then add milk and reduce heat to simmer. Be careful not to let the milk boil over, or it will reduce too fast and change the consistency. Wait two minutes, then add the rest of the spices. Let steep another five to seven minutes and strain equal amounts into two mugs (if serving hot) or, after it has cooled, lowball glasses (if serving cold). Add 1 1/2 ounces of rum to each vessel along with 3/4 ounces simple syrup. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or orange peel.