Chai - why so bitter?
June 17, 2008 1:07 AM   Subscribe

I thought I'd make my pregnant wife a nice cup of home brewed chai from a pregnancy recipe book. But it's awfully bitter and difficult to drink. What is causing the bitterness?

The caffeine free recipe calls for:
1 teaspoon of ginger (which we didn't have so I left out)
2 teaspoons of cloves
2 tablespoons of cardamom pods (although thinking back, I may have used 2 teaspoons...)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons of brown sugar

Can the obvious deficiencies in my direction following explain the extreme bitterness? That is, would more cardamom and some ginger counteract the awful taste in my mouth? I need guidance before I try again, as I don't want to drink it if it's going to be much the same. I ended up putting more sugar in my first batch to counteract it, and it made it barely drinkable, but I need more than that if I'm going to try again.

I realise there are a few questions here about chai already, but I want to understand my chai before I try again.

Thank you!
posted by joshnunn to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That's a lot of cloves. I'd track down some ginger (it's absolutely essential, esp. if your recipe omits black tea), use a maximum of 2 cloves per cup (if powdered, use a small pinch) and leave the other ingredients as they are. Also, how did you make this? Did you boil the water for a long time with the ingredients? It could have overextracted the oils and caused some of the bitterness. You might try simmering the bay leaf and cardamom for five or so minutes, then adding the other ingredients and removing it from the heat source and letting it steep rather than boiling, then drink.
posted by annathea at 1:21 AM on June 17, 2008

Response by poster: OK, ginger will definitely be added next time.

The method was to crush (mortar and pestle) the ingredients and put half in 2 cups of milk and heat to almost boiling, steep for ten minutes and re-heat.

I'll try less cloves - are they bitter?

Oh, and maybe this should have been in my original question - what is the difference between cardamom seeds and cardamom pods?

Thank you for your help so far.
posted by joshnunn at 1:30 AM on June 17, 2008

Try boiling the water, then letting the ingredients steep for more along the lines of 5 minutes, and adding the milk last. All the tastiness will concentrate during the water steeping portion, and you can dilute how strong it tastes with your milk.
posted by boy detective at 1:48 AM on June 17, 2008

A cardamon pod contains cardamon seeds: wikipedia has pictures.
posted by jacalata at 1:51 AM on June 17, 2008

MrTaff is Tibetan but grew up in India. He makes superdooper chai heaps.

Depending on your quantities of liquid... he'd put about 1-2 cardamom pods in... no bay leaf, no cloves. I agree that the cloves are far too much.

Basically, I'd keep to ginger, cardamom and cinnamon.... which is what MrTaff does.

He gets hot water in a saucepan, adds the spices and tea and sugar, and adds the milk just at the very end or it boils over.

If you're wife is off caffeine, which I am (also pregnant) you can substitute tea for rooibos.

Good luck possum,and let us know how it goes second time around.

If you want to email/memail me with specific questions for MrTaff, I'm happy to ask him for you... Bearing in mind I'm in Australia and it may take some time to get back to you because of odd time zones.
posted by taff at 3:37 AM on June 17, 2008

Oh.... crush the cardamom pods too, by the way. I think someone else said that. And the ginger.
posted by taff at 3:39 AM on June 17, 2008

I think that you have an excess amount of cloves, to be sure.
posted by h00py at 4:09 AM on June 17, 2008

Response by poster: OK, lets say I have just cardamom seeds, how much is too much of h\that? And what kind of flavour does the bay leaf add? I can try without it, but my palette isn't sophisticated enough I fear to figure out what the differences are making.

Thanks taff too for the extra explanation. I really will get some ginger next time I'm out. I'm in Oz myself, so I'm sitting here bored after watching the Simpsons. Your time zone is a bonus!
posted by joshnunn at 4:10 AM on June 17, 2008

Lovie, chai isn't a science. It's like... um... pasta.

There are a million ways to make it.... and if you like the outcome... it's a success.

Or, actually... if MsPreggersJoshnunn likes it, it's a success.

MrTaff is saying that each pod has about 10-12 seeds in it... and in a saucepan that takes about 600ml... he adds 3-4 pods...

I've no idea what the bay leaf adds... sounds a bit wanky to me. Indian people wouldn't do it, according to MrTaff.

I've often had chai with just ginger, or just cardamom in it, depending on what we've got in the house. MrTaff just throws something together, whacks in some sugar and milk, and bob's your ex-primeminister!

Truly... make it up as you go along... just add more sugar if you're not loving it. In India it's so sweet it will rot your teeth. I always need to get my teeth clean when I return from a month or two in India! (Although it's probably the tanin in the tea more than the sugar.)

Good luck, and tell us how you go. And how MsPreggersJoshnunn likes it.

And YAY for your timezone, cobber!

p.s..... I'll stop raving in a tick, I promise... sometimes I've had chai with a little black pepper in it. That's nice too.... still with the cinnamon and the sugar and ginger etc.... but just a thought.
posted by taff at 5:26 AM on June 17, 2008

Cloves do get bitter, especially when ground up. Also, are you using green cardamom? Because black cardamom is not what you want here.
posted by goingonit at 5:41 AM on June 17, 2008

The bay leaf is something I've never seen in any chai recipe. It has a smoky, herby flavour meant for savoury dishes. It does not belong in sweet chai. But I agree with taff that just a wee bit of black pepper can work. It's odd, but pepper and fresh strawberries work, too.

Yes, there's too much cloves. And while pure milk instead of milk and water is probably not a source of bitterness, most people use a combination of milk and water instead to get the right balance of tea and spice flavours. Pure milk seems to bind the flavours and make them cloying, while water helps release them.

I'd look at some of the chai recipes in those other threads or in this one.
posted by maudlin at 5:56 AM on June 17, 2008

Oh yeah WAY too many cloves. Did you know, they're so bitter that they used to be used as a numbing agent for (very rich people's) sore teeth? Clamp down on one of those babies and after a while you won't feel a thing! :)
posted by GardenGal at 5:56 AM on June 17, 2008

Bay leaf is a pretty cool ingredient - I've made chai with it before, it adds a little something extra without being too prominent.

Also, in my opinion, you can't have too much cardamom. I've used as many as five pods for a single (big) cup of chai, but my tastes are a little...obsessive when it comes to cardamom. A hint of vanilla and black pepper are also very very nice.
posted by annathea at 6:42 AM on June 17, 2008

you have been overbrewing. five minutes, max.
posted by killy willy at 7:50 AM on June 17, 2008

Agreeing about way too much clove, especially if they're ground. I use a total of 4 whole cloves in my chai, and that's for 4 cups of chai. The cardamom amount seems excessive as well. I use about 8 cardamom pods--whole, not crushed. If I had only seeds, that would probably be about 1/2 teaspoon of seeds.

Also, I wonder about the crushing of everything. That means that the bits of spice stay in the chai and just get stronger and stronger. I use whole spices and filter them out at the end. So if you want to use that recipe, I'd vote for replacing the ground ingredients with slices of fresh ginger, a very few whole cloves, and cardamom pods, and filtering them all out after steeping about 5 minutes.

My favorite chai recipe these days involves 4 slices of fresh ginger, 1 stick of cinnamon, 4 whole cloves, 7-8 cardamom pods, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, and a pinch of nutmeg simmered 5 minutes in 2 cups of water (with lots of black tea), with 2 cups almond milk added at the end. Strain, add honey to taste.
posted by PatoPata at 9:34 AM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

« Older At least it's not maggots   |   Not quite a party, but more than a get-together Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.