Chai doesn't taste like cardamom?
November 29, 2011 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Why doesn't my chai taste like cardamom? What can I do to the cardamom to make its flavor more robust?

I just got back from two months spent in India, and am addicted to chai. But I can't make my homemade chai taste like theirs!

To elaborate, I'm using the full, green cardamom pods. When I make chai, I usually start by splitting open 30 or so pods and toasting the seeds for a few minutes over high heat. Then, I take the seeds and grind them in a food processor, and take the powder and put it in water (4 cups or so) which I bring to a boil.

One thing I thought might help is letting the water simmer for about ten minutes after boiling- this didn't really bring out much more flavor.

I know a much more cardamom-y flavor is possible because I was able to (only once!) get it tasting right when I made chai at a friend's house. Since then, however, it hasn't tasted the same.

Any tips, metafilter?
posted by pyrom to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think the "grinding in a food processor" part might be the problem. I separate the whole seeds from the pods, then toast both in a skillet. I also throw in one or two black cardamom pods with the green, which gives my chai a very woody taste.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:05 AM on November 29, 2011

Response by poster: Any advice for how long I should toast the seeds? I've noticed that toasting gets rid of some of the menthol-y flavor, but I'm not sure to what degree over-toasting gets rid of the cardamom flavor altogether.
posted by pyrom at 10:12 AM on November 29, 2011

It's hard to say without looking at your recipe. The traditional method my Indian friends have used involves using water and half & half which they simmer with the spices. The water is only there to replace what would otherwise evaporate during the process. Don't overlook the fat content in the half & half, since many (most) flavors are soluble in fat, rather than water.
posted by Hylas at 10:19 AM on November 29, 2011

I don't grind (or toast, actually) mine, I just crack them open and throw seeds and pod directly into the pot.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:20 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Try black cardamom (elaichi) instead of green. I use it pretty much exclusively for cooking and chai.
posted by Go Banana at 10:26 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't toast or grind either, just crack open so seeds are exposed and toss it all into pan. Try cooking in the milk instead of in plain water. Is your cardamom fresh?

This is my usual technique, as I don't normally drink pure doodh pati (tea made exclusively with milk): 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups boiling water, 1 tsp strong black tea, 2-3 pods green cardamom. Allow to boil on high heat until reduced to about 1 cup. Pour in milk until it's a shade or two paler than you like it. Reduce heat so it won't boil over explosively in that special way milk has (you may need to monitor the first few times) but keeps simmering. Done when it's back down to about 1 cup.

Black cardamom is stronger, though it tastes subtly different. I prefer green in my tea.
posted by tavegyl at 10:32 AM on November 29, 2011

Crush the seeds, use rolling pin if you want. This will let out the flavor. don't need to simmer longer.

Our home recipe is, 50-50 water and milk, add tea leaves, sugar, crushed cardamom seeds and bring it to boil. Unless you want strong tea flavor, no need to simmer for 10 minutes.
posted by zaxour at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2011

Best answer: The flavor oils being fat soluble might be it. I've definitely noticed that I need to use something with a bit more fat (like half and half) to get full flavor when I make coffee with cardamom.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:42 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

The recipe I got from my ex's south Indian (Tamil) family involved using straight up black cardamom seeds (and ground ginger + fresh ginger, ground + whole black pepper, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves, plus loose leaf black tea), not in the pod and not toasted. If you're not tasting enough cardamom, add more until you are comfortable with it.

Your method also might influence the intensity of the flavor. The tastiest preparation that she showed me (of the many ways her family made it) was the method where you bring milk to a boil, then add the chai, then reduce the heat and let it simmer. Never leave the tea in the milk (or any liquid) for more than 5 minutes, because the tannins get really strong and bitter and ruin the tea.

Alternatively, another person I dated who was from northern India used to do roughly the same method as above, but put the chai in plain water (i.e. NOT milk), and then take care of the milk + sugar in one fell swoop with sweetened condensed milk. He also used a ton of fresh nutmeg in his version, which made it taste like the world's most delicious candy. Beware, though, that if you drink this you will become even more addicted.
posted by Betty's Table at 10:43 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: IAI (Indian), and this is my mom's authentic recipe for a good Indian chai.

1. Put a pot with 40% water and 60% whole milk on medium heat.
2. When hot but not boiling, add chai and whole green cardamom pods (as tavegyl suggested, crush slightly so the seeds are exposed)
3. Keep hot and approaching a boil, stirring occasionally for the next 5 minutes.
4. Reduce heat to low for 5 more minutes.
5. Strain tea into cups, add sugar to taste.

FWIW, I’ve seen chai being made at a million different Indian gatherings, and I have never seen anyone toasting or grinding cardamom seeds before adding them to the milk. Perhaps it happens, but I’ve never seen it.
posted by yawper at 10:56 AM on November 29, 2011 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow. Lots of great advice! I'm going to make chai today using this and I'll let everyone know the results.
posted by pyrom at 11:18 AM on November 29, 2011

Happy to help, hope it works out :) I just re-read your question and realized something - you're using 30 pods of cardamom for 4 cups of tea. That's a LOT of cardamom! We generally use 1 pod per cup, with maybe a couple extra thrown in (so, 4-6 pods for 4 cups of liquid), and that is plenty strong. I wonder if the toasting/grinding is actually reducing the flavour somehow. We often toast and grind spices before using them in Indian cooking...but not for chai...maybe boiling alters the effect somehow? Also, I assume you are using good tea which you brought back from India...if not then you will also want to consider the quality and flavour of tea you're using.
posted by yawper at 12:05 PM on November 29, 2011

An Indian friend of mine made chai just crushing the cardamom pods with a rock (they had a dedicated chai stone in their kitchen). The only other ingredients AFAIK were black tea, water, and milk.
posted by MadamM at 12:15 PM on November 29, 2011

I also think you might be toasting away the flavor of the cardamom. I don't toast it at all, and my problem is usually that I've got too MUCH cardamom flavor, so that I can't taste anything else.

If you still have trouble, add more sugar. Sometimes the full taste of the spices doesn't come out without enough sugar. A watery, insipid chai can completely transform with the addition of enough sugar.
posted by sunnichka at 9:28 PM on November 29, 2011

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