3 Days, 3 Teas (Sam’s Chai Recipe)

To add to the ever-growing list of “things we occupy ourselves with that are a bit weird and not in the parenting books,” we’ve added afternoon tea to our (un)routine.

This is surprising even to me, as this particular 3-year-old typically rejects all drinks except water, but he seems to make an exception for a good cup of tea. His usual go-to is chamomile, but recently I’ve been introducing him to other varieties (yes: decaf!), since these days he is willing to experiment with most new flavors, under one condition: we have to call it a “tasting.” Our flagship spice tasting session kicked off our obsession with having tastings for everything, and now most mealtimes involve everything from fruit tastings to meat tastings, cheese tastings to herb tastings to tea tastings (I know–it’s so West Coast of us). 

At any rate, at tea time, Sam gets out his tiny mug (handmade for him by his uncle, who is a ceramic artist), we boil some water in a kettle, and he picks out a type of tea from my embarrassingly large selection. I pour the water, we wait for the tea to steep, and then cool it down by pouring it back and forth between two mugs. Sam sometimes adds a tiny lump of sugar or a drizzle of honey (optional!) and stirs it up, and he sips it while I make dinner.

Day 1 we drank lemon tea; Day 2 we tried green tea; and on Day 3, we made chai. Sam, who loves spices, was totally into this. He counted out each whole spice, and then ground them up with a mortar and pestle, just for fun. Here’s our basic recipe, which we’ve adapted from various Indian friends. 

6 green cardamom pods
10 cloves
5 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 inch fresh ginger, sliced
a few grinds of fresh nutmeg
1 star anise (optional)
2 black cardamom pods (optional, for smoky flavor)
4 tbsp assam tea, or any decaf black tea
4 cups whole milk
sugar to taste (optional)

Add spices to a pot with 4 cups water. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Add tea and let steep for 2 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth and then return to pot. Add milk and bring to a gentle simmer, then add sugar to taste and stir until dissolved. Serve hot–or pour into jars to chill in fridge, then serve over ice.

Note: Tea drinking might not be for every toddler. Use your discretion! (Also, this chai recipe is tasty without the tea, too.)


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