Easy Indian Tea (தேயிலை!)


Did you see my basic Tamil there? Pretty impressive right? Well, to be honest…I got that out of the Tamil-English dictionary I own and then I had to use Google to find the characters–I have NO clue how to make them using my keyboard…but that isn’t about tea at all, it’s about my Tamil communication skills and we can’t digest those (they don’t even fry well).

Cooking, even tea, is a type of communication. The speaker to the listener, the cook to the eater–it’s an expression of one’s self. Back in 2008, I offered to make my fiance some tea because I was going to make some for myself. He looked as though he only now realized I possessed such a skill and excitedly nodded. When I finally handed him the steaming cup, I could tell something had been lost in our exchange. I bobbed my tea packet up and down in the water and offered, “It’s green tea, I bought the better stuff.” I was hoping that would inspire him to drink, but…nothing! “Do you want sugar or lemon?”

“This isn’t the tea I was thinking of. I meant tea,” he emphasized…for clarity, obviously.

He then tried to show me the kind of tea he meant by badly brewing some black tea in water with wayyyyy to many cloves then added milk, but I understood anyways, “Oh, you mean like CHAI tea!” And, like all of my forays into a new Indian dish of any kind…I proceeded to make absolutely terrible Chai-esque teas for a very long time while I negotiated between the flavor he was hoping for and the flavors I had experienced up to that point (Oregon Chai, primarily).

I watched videos, gingerly de-skinned ginger, bought pre-mixed chai packets from Indian grocery stores (trying to cheat), boiled whole milk…watched whole milk boil onto my counters…etc etc etc. I drank “Indian tea” at our friends’ houses and in India while  my fiance would exclaim “This is tea!” holding up each cup to me as every accurate drip of tea floated on our tongues…and then I finally  felt like I knew the taste we were trying to get the tea to say.

I laugh thinking about how much effort I put into making tea…I mean…it’s only tea. This is not chai tea. Chai requires a masala of spices and while you can add cardamon pods, cloves, (1 pod/clove per cup of milk) and a cinnamon stick to this recipe, I never do.  It’s also a lazy recipe, meaning the method I describe brews the tea slow and low. It’s easy to half/double/triple, etc etc. Here it is:

Materials you’ll need, but might not have:

A Cup of Tea

  • 1 Cup of Milk
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Black Tea
  • 1/3 Cup Water

On medium heat, add all ingredients and stir to mix. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Your tea should never actually boil, though it might start a gentle “simmering” near the end–which is fine. Strain, and serve.

4 Liters of Tea

  • 1 Gallon of Milk
  • 1 Cup of Sugar
  • 1 Cup of Black Tea
  • Water, until about 1 centimeter below the rim of the pot, but do not exceed 5 cups of water.

On medium heat, add all ingredients and stir to mix. Cook for approximately 45 minutes, stirring occasionally (I’ve sometimes had to cook up to 60 minutes). Your tea should never actually boil, though it might start a gentle “simmering” near the end–which is fine. Strain into one or two pitchers, and then store in the fridge. It takes 1 and a half minutes in the microwave to reheat a single cup.

NOTE: You can also add more tea than called for, especially if you prefer a stronger tea taste–I am usually generous with my tea. Longer cooking times produce a thicker/creamier and sweeter tea, but that’s not always desirable. We use Brooke Bond Red Label loose leaf tea, it’s an Orange Pekoe; it’s found at Indian grocery stores or online. I choose to use 1% milk because it contains less fat and cholesterol, but doesn’t taste as watery as non-fat milk.


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