Zero Proof: Making Chai

By Avery Peters

In the late fall of 2020 after we’d lived through the first wave of the pandemic, I began a practice of making myself and my husband a special immune-boosting cup of chai every single day. Part of it stemmed from my desire to soothe my anxieties of the fear circulating around me about Covid-19 and part of it stemmed from my desire to do something about my evolving seasonal allergies (if you’d like to learn more about astragalus and its medicinal properties, that is for another article). The act of making this cup of tea every day to share with my husband became so much more than just an immune boost or an allergy ease.

This chai recipe comes from an online course I have been taking called “Taste of Herbs,”which is offered by the Learning Herbs platform and website. The course itself was developed by Rosalee de la Forêt. I found out the chai recipe was one of her favourites and after I did more research on the benefits of astragalus root, I knew I had to make it.

Because this tea/tisane involves roots of plants as well as mushroom, it requires a process called decoction, which involves simmering the herbs and roots in a pot on the stove for a longer period of time than you would steep tea in a pot on the counter. This chai simmers for about one hour and it seems like it uses a lot of herbs to make it. Since it requires a longer simmer and some measuring and weighing of herbs, I would make enough for two days at a time and refrigerate the extra tea for the next day.

We have particularly big mugs that we use every day to drink our chai—mugs that are bigger than the usual tea or coffee cups. Mostly we drink it in the evening after the kids go to bed. If our schedule is different or Zak is working the night shift, I give it to him in a mason jar so that he can heat it up at work. I always make sure that there is enough for both of us. It has become a ritual of calm in a period of uncertainty and isolation, soothing us as we sit for another night of Netflix or reading. I’ll always be thinking of him if our schedules differ: “Oh, you didn’t get your chai today. Do you want me to heat it up for you or do you want me to put it in the fridge for tomorrow?”

Over time after tasting cup after cup, I’ve adjusted the recipe to my own taste, adding more black pepper or ginger to make it spicier or blending fresh and dried ginger to get the flavour profiles of both.

The ritual of measuring and simmering every (other) day nourished and calmed me. I loved the smell of every herb as I would open the jars to prepare another pot and I still do. I’ve memorized and internalized the recipe reaching for each jar of herbs: astragalus root, reishi mushroom, cardamom, clove, orange peel, black pepper, dried ginger, fresh ginger, and sometimes allspice. The first two ingredients may be unknown to you. Astragalus is an immune-boosting herb that has been used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine and it is the root of the plant that is used. Reishi is a mushroom with longstanding use in Asian countries as well. Astragalus has a wonderful sweet taste and you can also use it in broths (as well as reishi and many other edible mushrooms), but we’ve especially loved them in this chai.

After measuring all of the ingredients I place them in the pot with 10 cups of water and bring it to a simmer. Since we’d been renting while our house was being built, I had to get used to a few different cooktops along the way and ensure that they were simmering and not boiling. So I’d putter around in the kitchen as the smell wafted out of the pot over the course of the hour. Then I strain off the herbs using a fine mesh strainer (the one I also use for rice) and my biggest Pyrex measuring cup which, depending on the evaporation during the simmer, may or may not be able to hold what was previously 10 cups. I pour it into each of our large mugs and then the rest goes into a mason jar into the fridge for the next day. I add a touch of honey to each mug and to the jar and then a splash of milk.

As the recipe slowly became my own, some batches were a bit bitter from boiling too much, others were too spicy from an overzealous addition of ginger or black pepper. Some batches even reminded me of Froot Loops cereal from adding too much orange peel (something about orange with the sweet astragalus—does Kelloggs secretly add medicinal roots? haha). Each time I make the chai it is a little different depending on my mood and attention, and I think that’s true of many things in life that we repeat. Each time, we enjoy this chai. Sometimes we pay more attention than others, but we always receive the warm physical comfort in addition to the knowledge that we’re doing something good for our health. Making this chai was and still is an important way for me to care for myself and to share that care and affection with my husband.

Making and sharing tea has a long and expansive history. This is a part of my story that keeps evolving and growing. Tea ebbs and flows out of popularity but it will never go away. I challenge you to try a tea you never have before and buy it loose leaf. Get a tea strainer or compostable single-use tea bags and fill them yourself. There is so much more enjoyment to be had from using whole herbs (and if you’re up for it — foraging, growing, and harvesting your own herbs) rather than using plastic-laden pre-filled teabags at the grocery store.

Next time, I will be sharing a bit more about how to blend your own teas. I’ll start simple and it won’t be too overwhelming.

Find the recipe for the astragalus chai here: