The snow is falling steadily as I type away. The clicking of the keyboard muddled with the melodies of a favorite playlist form the soundtrack for my quiet, weekday afternoon.
Plans are cancelled, and I cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief. Sometimes we need life to intervene and force us into relaxation.
This drink is winter's tonic. Sure, it might not be steaming and served in a mug topped with marshmallows, but somehow it is just as cozy.
It feels like we are giving our bodies a bit of extra love while simultaneously giving a nod of superiority to those threatening, winter colds.
I love making this drink because it doubles as a potpourri. As the chai fiercely simmers away, your kitchen will be filled with a spicy perfume that brings warmth to even the most frigid of winter days.
I clearly remember the first time I was handed a steaming mug of chai. I was eleven and did not yet appreciate the spicy brew. Several years later, however, I gave chai a second chance and I have been obsessed ever since.
A dear friend of mine always made the very best chai. I asked her to share with me the magic of her method several years ago, when I last visited, and I watched with admiration as she tossed in a bit of this and a pinch of that with reckless abandon and then ladled the dark, spicy tea into a mug.
To this day, I cannot make a pot of chai without thinking of her and the many winter days we spent together on her apartment floor playing monopoly when I was far too young to appreciate their value.
This is my best attempt at recreating the perfectly balanced chai that I fell in love with.
In addition to the tea, we have a bright, perfectly pink, blood orange syrup. It is impossible to fall into the doldrums of winter blues with something this pretty in hand.
Wasn't it sweet of God to give us something so cheery and colorful in the greyest of months?
After the tea and the syrup have been poured, a bit of fresh blood orange juice is added for an extra dose of acidity and vitamin C.
Mandarin sparkling water tops it off for just the right amount of fizz to keep things interesting.
If you wanted to be even more adventurous, you could substitute ginger beer. I think that would be a very good idea.
Cheers to making these winter days a little better, a little brighter.
SPARKLING BLOOD ORANGE CHAI
FOR THE BLOOD ORANGE SYRUP
- 3 small blood oranges
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup water
Wash the oranges thoroughly.
Slice oranges crosswise and use a reamer to juice the oranges and remove any seeds. Pour the juice into a 2-quart saucepan, along with the sugar and water. Add 2 of the orange skins to the pan and set over medium-high heat.
Bring the syrup to a simmer, stirring often. Once the syrup is simmering heavily, reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Allow the syrup to cool fully before removing the orange skins.
FOR THE CHAI
[ slightly adapted from Bon Appetit ]
- 4 cups filtered water
- 1, 1 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled, coarsely grated
- 1, 5-inch cinnamon stick, smashed with a heavy-bottomed glass
- 6 bags black tea
- 14 cardamom pods
Combine water, ginger, and cinnamon in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce and simmer, stirring every so often, until the water has reduced by about a third, and is very fragrant. This should take approximately 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and add in tea bags and cardamom pods. Steep for 7 minutes.
Strain the tea through a fine mesh strainer and allow to cool to room temperature before assembling the drinks.
- 2 blood oranges, sliced thinly
- 6 ounces freshly squeezed blood orange juice (from about 4 oranges)
- prepared syrup
- prepared chai
- 1 liter mandarin-flavored sparkling water (I find this at Trader Joes's) - you will not need the entire liter
Cook's Note: While this recipe makes six drinks, you certainly do not have to make them all at once. Both the syrup and the tea can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.
Fill 6 glasses with ice and orange slices. Pour 1 ounce of orange juice into each glass, followed by 1/5-2 ounces of blood orange syrup (you can adjust the sweetness based on personal tastes). Fill the glass 3/4 the way full with the prepared chai and top with sparkling water. Stir well. Like, really well. The syrup will try to stick to the bottom of the glass so we have to give it some coaxing. Alternatively, you could add the syrup, chai, and orange juice to a cocktail shaker, shake it up, pour it over the ice, and then top with the sparkling water. The choice is yours.
Serve immediately and enjoy!