ICT Engineering – Gediminas

Practical placement in Kolkata, India

Reverse-Engineering Chai

6 attempts to make the perfect cup of Chai

“The cup with the least Chai, wins.”

Celebrating my 50th post (and because real men keep their promises), this post is about a thing that I promised to do in my first post in the Food category. Because  reverse-engineering is a formal process it was documented according to the IMRAD specifications.

Abstract

By doing this experiment I expected to find what process and ingredients are best to use when trying to make Masala Chai, which tastes like the one sold on the streets of Kolkata. While trying different approaches I used Chai from the nearest Chaiwala’s to make sure that I was on track. The results include the process used, the outcome, the observations made and a picture of the Chai produced with each attempt.

1. Introduction

Chai is the most popular beverage in India and a good indicator of how busy a bus station is – the more important the station, the higher the number of Wala’s in the area. But what exactly is Chai and how hard is it to make it? Do you need any special ingredients or processes to make a beverage which is sold at the rate of 3 INR per cup?

The purpose of the experiment is to find the ingredients and process that can be used to make Chai like the kind that is sold on street corners of Kolkata so that one could enjoy it even outside of India.

2. Methods

2.1. Materials

Materials used to make Chai

Figure 1. Materials used to make Chai

Since the price per cup of Chai is very low, it was assumed that the Wala’s are using cheap ingredients. Masala Chai usually consists of water, milk, tea and spices. The tools that the Wala’s use for the brewing process are common and are very likely to be in an average kitchen set up.

Ingredients for Chai:

  • Water – regular drinking water
  • Milk – Sofit soy milk || Milkmaid condensed milk
  • Tea – Lochu Darjeeling ||  TATA AGNI || TATA Premium || TATA Gold
  • Spices – refined sugar and EVEREST Tea Masala || raw cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper

Other materials used in the process:

  • 3 cups of Chai from the street – 2 (clay and plastic) from one Wala and 1 from another
  • A gas stove – for heating the kettle
  • A basic kettle – for brewing the Chai in
  • An electric kettle – for heating up the water faster (not needed after the main kettle is hot)
  • A table-spoon – for stirring the Chai
  • A cutting board – for preparing the raw spice mix (i.e. crushing the cardamom pods and cinnamon)
  • A knife – for cutting the ginger root and crushing cardamom pods
  • A strainer – for removing the unwanted particles from the liquid when serving
  • Several cups and bowls – for storing the Chai

2.2. Approach

The process of brewing Chai

Figure 2: The process of brewing Chai

To have consistency in the results, same or very similar amounts of different materials were used in each attempt:

  • Water – 3/4 of a cup
  • Milk – 1/2 of a cup of soy milk and 2 table spoons of sugar || 1/5 of a cup condensed milk
  • Tea – 3 table spoons
  • Spices – 1/3 of a table-spoon of EVEREST Tea Masala || a set amount of raw spices, cardamom and ginger being the main

As for the process, after going through several Chai recipes on this website, few distinct processes were recognized:

  • Boil water with tea -> add milk -> add spices
  • Boil water with spices -> add milk -> add tea
  • Boil water with milk -> add spices -> add tea

After each attempt the results of using a specific process would be noted and the lessons learned from the attempt would be incorporated in the next attempt. In between attempts, the Chai from the Wala’s would be used as a reference point to make sure that the experiment is going to the right direction. Also, since the street Chai stays in the kettle for a long time, each attempt will be ended with leaving the mixture to steep for at least 5 minutes.

3. Results

Attempt #1

Chai Attempt No. 1

Figure 3: A glass of bland and spicy Chai

Process:

  1. A tea bag of Lochu Darjeeling tea was put into water and the mix was brought to a boil.
  2. 2/3 of a cup of soy milk was added.
  3. 1/3 of a table spoon of EVEREST Tea Masala was added.
  4. The liquid was left to steep for 5 minutes with the heat off.

Outcome:

  • The taste is bland and is nothing like the street Chai.

Observations:

  • The tea is not strong enough or more than one pack should have been used.
  • Even small amounts of EVEREST Tea Masala make the beverage too spicy and it was not used in further attempts.
  • The beverage is not as creamy as the street version, which might be due to the milk used.

Attempt #2

Chai Attempt No. 2

Figure 4: A bowl of bitter Chai

Process:

  1. 3/4 of a cup of water and 1/2 of a cup of soy milk were mixed and the mix was brought to a boil.
  2. 3 tablespoons of TATA Agni tea were added.
  3. A set of raw spices and 2 tablespoons of sugar were added.
  4. The liquid was left to steep for 5 minutes with the heat off.

Outcome:

  • Close to the street Chai in a way that the taste of tea is strong, but also bitter while the taste of spices was well balanced.

Observations:

  • TATA Agni is too strong and tastes bitter it was not used in further attempts.
  • Same as in the earlier attempt, the beverage is not as creamy as the street version, which might be due to the milk used.

Attempt #3

Chai Attempt No. 3

Figure 5: A cup of Chai with weak taste of tea

Process:

  1. 3/4 of a cup of water was mixed with a set of raw spices and the mix was brought to a boil.
  2. 1/2 of a cup of soy milk and 2 tablespoons of sugar were added.
  3. 3 tablespoons of TATA Premium tea were added.
  4. The liquid was left to steep for 5 minutes with the heat off.

Outcome:

  • The taste of spices was strongly felt, but the taste of tea was lacking.

Observations:

  • TATA Premium is not as strong as TATA Agni and lacking the aroma that is present in the street Chai, so it was not used in further attempts.
  • Same as in the earlier attempt, the beverage is not as creamy as the street version, which might be due to the milk used.

Attempt #4

Chai Attempt No. 4

Figure 6: A cup of Chai that is too sweet

Process:

  1. 3/4 of a cup of water was mixed with 3 tablespoons of TATA Gold tea and the mix was brought to a boil.
  2. 1/3 of a cup of condensed milk was added.
  3. A set of raw spices were added and the mix was brought to a boil.
  4. The liquid was left to steep for 5 minutes with the heat off.

Outcome:

  • Tastes almost like street Chai with both the taste of tea and the creaminess present, but overall the beverage is too sweet.

Observations:

  • TATA Gold tea has a good balance of strength and aroma.
  • Condensed milk has to be used in a much lower amount than regular or soy milk and so the amount in the next attempts will be reduced to 1/5 of a cup.

Attempt #5

Chai Attempt No. 5

Figure 7: A cup of almost perfect Chai

Process:

  1. 3/4 of a cup of water was mixed with 3 tablespoons of TATA Gold tea and the mix was brought to a boil.
  2. 1/5 of a cup of condensed milk added.
  3. A set of raw spices were added and the mix was brought to a boil.
  4. The liquid was left to steep for 5 minutes with the heat off.

Outcome:

  • The closest match! The taste of the tea, the creaminess present and the sweetness was just right.

Observations:

  • The spices should either be added before the condensed milk or when adding the spices last they should be left to steep for a longer time or maybe even brought to a boil to strengthen the presence (if needed).

Attempt #6

Chai Attempt No. 6

Figure 8: A bowl of Chai with a strong taste of cardamom

Process:

  1. 3/4 of a cup of water was mixed with a set of raw spices and the mix was brought to a boil.
  2. 1/5 of a cup of condensed milk was added.
  3. 3 tablespoons of TATA Gold tea were added.
  4. The liquid was left to steep for 5 minutes with the heat off.

Outcome:

  • The taste of spices is too strong and the taste of tea is lacking.

Observations:

  • Either I used too much cardamom and it toned down the other tastes, or the process doesn’t deliver a satisfactory taste of tea.

4. Discussion

It seems that both the choice of ingredients and the process matter a lot when making Chai. The tea must have a pleasant aroma, be moderately strong and should be brewed in the water before any other ingredient to achieve a strong presence. Condensed or regular milk should be used instead of vegan/low-fat/diet alternatives to achieve the creaminess that is present in the Chai sold on the streets of Kolkata. For spices it is best to use a set of raw spices than a pre-made mix, because the mix might be bad in general and using a set of raw spices allows you to adjust the taste to your liking. Lastly, the container in which the is stored doesn’t affect the taste, but one may find that drinking Chai from a clay cup is more enjoyable.

Advertisements

Single Post Navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: