Saffron milk tea (karak chai)

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When I spend all my time at home, with constant access to coffee, one of my biggest challenges is trying not to spend every waking hour refilling my mug and getting myself so jacked up on caffeine that it’s laughable to even consider sleeping prior to one or two in the morning. If it’s coffee, I’m going to drink it and want more.

With tea, however, I can show more restraint. It feels somehow more refined, more of a ritual. If it comes in a tiny cup, I will sip and savor, trying to make it last longer. “Tea time” also feels 1000x more civilized than “sixth cup of coffee time.”

One of the things I miss most about my neighborhood in Brooklyn is the multitude of chai vendors that line Church Avenue between my apartment and the subway. After mastering the basic chai blend, I wanted to change things up. Internet research lead me to Karak Chai, a popular Qatari variation. By focusing on the flavor of saffron and cardamom, you get a tea with subtle complexities and a gorgeous caramel color.

Using condensed milk lends a super creamy sweetness without diluting the strength of the tea, because at the end of the day, we’re still trying to get caffeinated at the end of tea time.

The key to making this chai is the process of bringing it to a boil multiple times. The total brew time should be about five minutes from the time your water comes to a boil. Karak chai is not a set-it-and-forget-it tea — it doesn’t take a long time to make, but you do need to be attentive throughout the process.

Karak Chai

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons looseleaf black tea
  • 3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1-2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
This is my favorite brand of loose leaf black tea — you can find it at your local Indian grocery.

Method

  1. Add water and looseleaf tea to a small saucepan. Bring to a lively boil, then remove from heat.
  2. While the water comes to a boil, lightly crush the cardamom pods and combine them with the saffron threads. Add to the tea mixture, then return to heat and bring to a boil a second time.
  3. Once the mixture is bubbling, remove from heat again and stir in 1-2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. How much you add depends completely on your preference.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil 2-3 more times, lowering the heat each time the tea comes to a boil, then raising the heat again. You’ll notice that the reddish color of the tea becomes more pronounced each time.
  5. Strain into a teapot, or directly into cups.