Is there such a thing as curry tea?
September 22, 2014 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Coffee has lost its perk. Tea is far too mellow. Looking for something new to spice up my morning

So I'm sitting at my desk, drinking coffee #4, and realizing it's not doing anything for me except giving me gut rot and a headache. So I try some of the Indian Chivda (spicy trail mix) I was given recently as a gift. I don't like the taste much, but after a few handfuls I'm noticing the spice is lifting the headache and my spirits. Hazaah!

Is there any science about the effect of these spice(s)? Can I get the same effect in drink form? I'm a fan of Chai, but I find it more sweet than spicy. What else is out there (short of amphetamines or a healthier lifestyle)?
posted by Popular Ethics to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I got a gift of Mexican hot chocolate mix that had both spices (mostly cinnamon) as well as hot chili in it. The combination of spice and heat as well as the bitterness of the chocolate was divine.
posted by quince at 11:02 AM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yerba maté might fit the bill.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:06 AM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

what about just brewing chai teabags and not sweetening it? I'm actually a big fan of Tazo Chai -- it's easy to find, pretty spicy (especially if you double up the bags! ) and not sweet at all.
posted by changeling at 11:09 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you tried Good Earth's Sweet and Spicy tea? It comes with and without caffeine. It's the only thing I could drink when I gave up coffee.

Ingredients: Black tea, natural flavor, rosehip, lemongrass, cinnamon, chamomile, peppermint, jasmine green tea, anise seed, ginger root, orange peel, orange oil.
posted by janey47 at 11:10 AM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've seen that you can just add spices into the coffee ground that you brew. Not sure how well that works but it's worth a try! You can also put a dash of spices into your tea.

Also, any tea with a strong cinnamon flavor usually had a pretty strong kick. Also have you done straight mint tea? That too can clear sinuses.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:11 AM on September 22, 2014

Teapig's Chilli Chai
posted by mymbleth at 11:14 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Came in to suggest the Good Earth sweet and spicy tea. It does have a sweetness to it due to the heavy cinnamon, but it's also spicy and wonderful.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:14 AM on September 22, 2014

Try adding some ginger slices in your tea
posted by lucia_engel at 11:17 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Ginger Turmeric and Emperor's Chai blends from Spice & Tea Exchange are delicious and should be right up your alley. I'm assuming, maybe wrongly, that by "chai" you mean chai lattes. Masala chai tea blends will almost never be sweetened.
posted by capricorn at 11:17 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

there are studies that show that occasional breaks from coffee (like, every 3 weeks take 3 days off) resets your brain so it can give you the same perk it used to.
posted by nadawi at 11:18 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could play around with the Chai tea spice mix until you get one you like. If you make your own Chai you can avoid the sweet altogether. Also you might hit up a Tea specialty shop & explain your predicament, they can probably suggest all sorts of blends. This seems pretty much like what you are looking for, though I can't vouch for how sweet it is.
posted by wwax at 11:19 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the chai you've been drinking is largely obtained via Starbucks, that could be why right there; it may have been toned down for the mass market.

Fortunately this is easy to make on your own - for about $20 at a well-stocked supermarket (even less if you have access to a place that does spices in bulk and will let you get small amounts), you can make up a tin of a chai spice blend that is as spicy as you want, and will last you a while. I just dump the spices I use into a bowl and give them a slight crushing (not ground to a powder, but maybe pound them a couple times with the bottom of a heavy coffee mug), then put them into an airtight container. I use a blend of cardamom pods, star anise pods, peppercorns, a couple cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves, and....something else. There are tons of recipes for What Spices To Use out there.

And to do the DIY brewing - you take a half-cup of milk, a tablespoon of the spice blend, and sugar to taste (less in your case) and microwave them for about 30 seconds. Strain the milk, add it to a cup of tea, presto.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, there's chai, which is about as close as you'd get to "curry tea". Pretty sure a little ginger and cardamom is not a scientifically proven mood altering substance, though. Certainly nothing big enough to be noticeable in the way that caffeine is.

If you think chai you've tried in the past is too sweet, make it yourself and put less sugar in it. Most real Indian chai actually is quite well spiced and, while sweet, definitely has a kick to it as compared to the stuff Starbucks sells here in the US.

I've also tried and enjoyed "dirty chai", which is chai with a shot of espresso added.
posted by Sara C. at 11:22 AM on September 22, 2014

If you decide to take the (good) advice here and make your own chai, make sure to steep it with fresh ginger. That's where the kick comes from.

I also love straight ginger-lemon-honey tea. Finely chop ginger, mash it a little bit, then boil it for a few minutes in water, add lemon juice and honey. Might be more sweet than you like, though.
posted by geegollygosh at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2014

There is also a product labelled "Tea Masala" at Indian grocery stores, of which you just put a few dashes/a small amount in your normal tea to make an easier version of chai. Add too much and your tea will be inedible! (The 'two heaping teaspoons' serving suggestion is overkill, I think.)
posted by goethean at 11:30 AM on September 22, 2014

I drink Stash's Lemon Ginger Herbal Tea instead of coffee now. It gives me a zing in the morning to help wake me up. There's also a caffeinated Lemon Ginger Green Tea.
posted by girlpublisher at 11:30 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

In a different vein-- maybe you'd like kombucha? Not the same spices, but a similar kick.
posted by geegollygosh at 11:31 AM on September 22, 2014

You can also add cardamom in with your ground coffee when brewing for delicious results.
posted by kaspen at 11:32 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the teas you've tried are "too mellow", consider lapsang souchong tea. The tea leaves are smoked over a pinewood fire, which gives them a wonderful smokey, resinous aroma. It's very much a love-it-or-hate-it product, though, so you might want to try it at a tea shop before you buy a large amount of it for home use.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:33 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: What an amazing response! I now have a shopping list a dozen blends long (not including the homebrew ingredients). Thanks everyone, and keep them coming!

I was wondering what it is in the trail mix that is giving me the pick-me-up. The cardamom, curry, coriander, mustard seed, ginger or something else? I'll probably have to try a variety to see what works and tastes best.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2014

Mustard and ginger may indeed be part of it. Ginger seems more "chai-esque", but hell, there's probably a chai blend with mustard seed in it as well.

That's kind of the fun of the DIY approach - that's what the people who invented chai do too; experiment with spices to see what works. Try some with mustard seed and see!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Coffee with Cardamom is a thing, see here, but there are other places which suggest this also.
posted by biffa at 11:54 AM on September 22, 2014

This is my favorite ginger tea of all the ones I've tried. They sell it almost anywhere. It also tastes closest to a tea you would make from fresh ginger than other packaged ginger teas. It's mostly just ginger and black pepper whereas a lot of ginger teas put a lot of other crap in it, including, often, lemon.

You can make your own chai tea blend to suit your taste, just by mixing your favorite black tea with all the spices in different proportions. There are recipes online. I think the sweetness usually comes from the licorice and cinnamon so maybe keep those low.

There are also lots of "spicy" tea blends that are not specifically chais if you look at a tea shop with a large flavored section.
posted by Blitz at 11:56 AM on September 22, 2014

I like to brew up a strong mix of yerba mate and chai (no milk) for a late-afternoon or pre-workout boost. Sometimes I'll toss in a slice of ginger if I have some.

If you decide to try yerba mate, be aware that it has theobromine in it as well as caffeine, and the ratios can vary. The theobromine acts as a vasodilator, and it may cause headaches for some people, so try it in moderation before going nuts with it.
posted by gimli at 12:01 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chewra/chivda is made from many different spice combinations. Often kala namak is used. That could be one of the flavors you are tasting. No reason you couldn't try adding some to tea.
posted by bardophile at 12:02 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cocoa that hasn't been Dutch-styled -- Hershey's Natural Unsweetened, for instance -- includes stimulants that go well with coffee's caffeine, are said to be psychotropic, and carry along an intense heavy/bitter chocolate flavor. Stirring it in is kind of an ongoing process, that being said, but it makes for an intense beverage.
posted by mr. digits at 12:30 PM on September 22, 2014

The triple leaf ginger tea is my boyfriend's ginger tea of choice. Brew it for the entire 15 minutes as recommended to get that serious kick. He's got a sweet tooth, so he doctors it with honey, but if you like it spice, I'd probably suggest brewing it with a cinnamon stick and some star anise instead. Maybe try adding a bit of Chinese five spice to your tea, too.
posted by PearlRose at 12:46 PM on September 22, 2014

When I'm sick (cold/flu), I make a throat/wellness tea that's a blend of chopped fresh ginger, a crushed garlic clove, a shake or two of cayenne (or red pepper flakes), then drink it with honey "to taste". Surprisingly tasty, both sweet and as a savory "broth". When I'm sick I make a whole saucepan full and then reheat a mugful at a time since it's kind of a lot of "cooking" for a beverage; it's just occurred to me that a jar of garlic-ginger paste could make all the difference in the prep time.
posted by aimedwander at 1:03 PM on September 22, 2014

nthing just pouring some hot water over freshly sliced ginger, maybe a wedge of lemon. Honey if you like. It's a lovely morning wakeup, and you can feel the heat suffuse your body. Soothing but energizing at the same time, and no caffeine crash.

You could also try your own chai-esque kind of thing; a blend of, say, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, dried ginger, and some chili flake. Steep in a small pot and pour through a strainer.

As much as I may despise her, Anne McCaffrey's klah may come close to fitting your bill; I recall absolutely loving it when I was younger, especially on cold mornings. From experience, though, you'll want to pour it through a coffee filter--cinnamon doesn't dissolve.

In Chinatown here you can buy instant ginger tea--kind of like large-granule instant iced tea. Comes in a red box, in individual portion sachets. The box is red--best I can recall sorry.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:13 PM on September 22, 2014

The ginger is probably what's helping to clear your head. You might want to try ginger chews or ginger candies to see if you get the same effect. I like The Ginger People ginger chews, which you can find at Trader Joe's or World Market. They're just sweet enough that it doesn't feel like sucking on raw ginger root.

That the spice helped with your headache makes me wonder if you've got any sinus issues going on. That could explain the improvement you felt, since ginger definitely helps to clear out the sinuses a little. I know sucking on a ginger chew or drinking ginger tea helps me when I've got mild sinus pressure or congestion.

Also, if you're finding your masala chai too sweet, leave the milk out. You get a much more intense burst of spice without any milk to ameliorate it. I find that traditional masala chai made with milk gives a lovely warm feeling in my stomach and works as a slower pick me up, but doesn't do so much to clear my head immediately. A spicy masala blend steeped in water and unsweetened would probably do a lot to give you a more immediate kick.
posted by yasaman at 1:13 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you go with ginger candies I recommend these, based on my love of ginger (and candy) and the research that I've done. Each unit is 1/3 ginger and besides being eaten they can be added to hot beverages for flavor and sugar.
posted by mr. digits at 1:38 PM on September 22, 2014

If you can get it where you are, Yogi Tea's Sweet Chili Tea (US website, EU website) tastes great and has a pretty good kick to it (and the longer you brew it, the hotter it gets). Definitely my favourite chilli tea, though obviously YMMV. The sweetness comes from liquorice, if my tastebuds are to be trusted.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2014

You can definitely add chai masala (as in the spice blend) to your coffee. I've got a whole-spice blend from a spice shop (this, specifically), and I just add some to the coffee grinder.

In addition to ginger, black pepper is nice and spicy.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:26 PM on September 22, 2014

Turmeric tea. Ideally, steep slices of fresh turmeric like you would ginger to make ginger tea. If you can't get fresh, try to get dried whole root, slice or grate it, and put it in a tea ball. If you can't get either, then try to find it in tea bags.

You can play around with adding cardamom, cinnamon, chai masala, chicory, and other things to your coffee.

When I have a cold, I mix half on ounce of Tabasco with half an ounce of apple cider vinegar, half an ounce of boiling water, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar. Sip it or take it as a shot. In addition to clearing up all my mucus, it wakes me up, gets me going, and temporarily relieves any soreness, stiffness, and headaches.
posted by WasabiFlux at 3:06 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chukku Kappi. Fantastic stuff.
posted by kjs4 at 5:16 PM on September 22, 2014

Other people think of my drink as more of a broth/soup, but, I continue the fight against the opression of sweet-drink normativity.

Anyway, curry tomato drink:
2/3 cup hot water,
half a teaspoon of a curry powder,
quite a bit of salt, stir to mix powder through,
then top up with 1/3 cup V8 juice or not-sweet tomato juice.
Change ratios to taste.

To me, it's warm salty spicy goodness.
You could probably do the same thing with chicken stock, etc, rather than tomato.
posted by Elysum at 11:14 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have some of this carrot curry tea and it is more reminiscent of a thin broth than a tea.

(Possibly the calories or the protein or the carbs in the trail mix gave you the energy that you felt?)
posted by RoadScholar at 5:01 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Numi tea makes a Cardamom Chai bag and a Chocolate Pu-Erh that are good. Both can be found in the Numi variety box which is in most chain grocery stores that have a "higerish end" "natural products" or "organic / health" aisle. It should be near the Yogi teas.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:34 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Last I checked Samovar had a Turmeric Spice tea that came in very handy in the winter months to clear up decongestion and give me that sort of (but a lot milder) wasabi-type endorphin rush that translated to reinvigoration. I doubt it's a flavor everyone would be ok with as tea--much more savory/brothy than not, and sometimes I'd add sliced raw garlic for the added winter blues chaser boost it gives!--but if you're ok with that, it might be just the thing. The downside is Samovar only sells their tea in pretty large quantities so it's a little risky/pricey considering unless you're in California to walk in there's no way to try before you buy. (Their tea is sometimes available on Amazon BTW.)
posted by ifjuly at 2:05 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first thing that came to mind when I read "curry tea" was what a friend introduced to me as "the Hot Cup of Awesome:" half chicken broth, half coconut milk, and couple tsps of Thai curry paste according to your taste.

It's definitely heartier than tea or coffee, and is considered by some people (me) to be a perfectly valid substitue for breakfast, but it's a rather pleasant and invigorating first-thing-in-the-morning drink. You can add hot sauce or chile paste to spice it up, or some chopped green onions for texture, or cilantro for a different flavor... or really anything that sounds good to you. On its own, it's also a comforting and nourishing thing to sip when you're feeling under the weather.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:32 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

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