Beverages

Thandai ठंडाई

Thandai ठंडाई as it is known in Hindi, is a festive drink, creamy thanks to full fat milk, rich thanks to an assortment of nuts, aromatic thanks to rose petals (or yellow marigold which is used in some regions such as Braj), cooling thanks to ingredients such as melon seeds, refreshing as it’s usually served chilled and intensely flavorful thanks to sweeteners as well as an orchestra of spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and fennel. A wholesome beverage rich in flavor and culture, it is often served on the Hindu festivals of Maha Shivarathri and Holi.

Maha Shivarathri मह शिवरात्रि is a Hindu festival dedicated to Lord Shiva (“maha” मह = “great”, “Shiva” शिव = “(Lord) Shiva” and “rathri” रात्रि = “night”) who, according to Hindu legend, on this special day saved the world from a pot of highly toxic poison that emerged from the ocean.
Devotees would observe fast (known as “vrat” व्रत in Hindi) on this auspicious day when after sunset of Maha Shivarathri day, no meals would be consumed until sunrise the next day after performing a special religious prayer known as a “pooja” पूजा.
While some opt for a full fasting, abstaining from consuming even a drop of water, for some this avenue is not an option for reasons such as illness or old age. In such situations, non-cereal, nutritious dishes of milk, fruits and water are prepared. This rich, creamy “thandai” is one such example. It is believed that Lord Shiva liked this milky drink, and on this auspicious occasion, the creamy beverage is sometimes spiked with “bhang” भांग which is an edible form of cannabis.
Although treated as a narcotic drug and is punishable by law to hoard and consume, this law is temporarily lifted in countries which celebrate this festival such as India and Nepal where holy men would be allowed to smoke it to imitate Lord Shiva.

According to legend, Lord Shiva had saved the world from the pot of poison by holding the toxic substance in his throat. This made him turn blue and generated substantial heat inside. Efforts to cool Lord Shiva were numerous, and one of them was calming him down with “bhang”.

Thandai (sometimes laced with “bhang” in some areas of India, particularly Varanasi, formerly known as Banaras, which is India’s thandai hub) is also a traditional beverage consumed during the Hindu festival of Holi. Also known as the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love”, Holi is a spring festival which celebrates the passing of winter and the arrival of spring and is celebrated amidst a highly charged atmosphere of vibrant colors, showering petals of fragrant rose and marigold, wild laughter and joyful play.

With temperatures rising in India with the arrival of spring, thandai, which is believed to have cooling properties, helps the body combat heat and so it is a tradition for festive merrymakers to drink refreshing, chilled Holi thandai to cool themselves down.
The name of this cooling beverage “thandai” ठंडाई literally means “coolant” in Hindi, and that word in turn is a derivative of the Hindi word “cool” which is “thanda” ठंडा.

Certain ingredients in thandai such as fennel (“saunf” सौंफ), saffron (“kesar” केसर), poppy seeds (“khus khus” खसखस), melon seeds (“karabhooje ke beej” खरबूजे के बीज, “karabhooje” खरबूजे = “melon”, “beej” बीज = “seeds”) and rose petals (“gulab ki phankudiyan” गुलाब की पंखुड़ियाँ, “gulab” गुलाब = “rose” “phankudiyan” पंखुड़ियाँ = “petals”) are believed to be “cooling” while black pepper is believed to help ward off cold-related infections.

Bhang thandai (or “bhang ki thandai” भांग की ठंडाई in Hindi) however must be consumed with caution, as an overdose could have negative consequences.

Although thandai is particularly popular in northern India (where the country’s thandai hub, Varanasi is located) the drink is relished in other states as well.

Like most dishes throughout India, thandai recipes vary region to region and from family to family with perhaps the only commonality among all recipes being fresh whole milk (known as “doodh” दूध in Hindi), a combination of nuts (usually almonds, cashews, pistachios) and a combination of spices traditionally ground in a traditional Indian stone grinder known as a “sil batta” सिल बट्टा.
Some recipes add cashews, some add pistachios, some add both. Some add fennel, some others add freshly ground black peppercorns (“kailee mirch” काली मिर्च), some have cinnamon (“dalachini” दालचीनी), some have green cardamom (“elaichi” इलायची) and some have saffron.
Some like their thandai thick while some prefer a more runny consistency.

Unlike in the West where there is a growing preference for skimmed milk / 2% fat etc, in India, milk is generally consumed whole, i.e. full fat and all. And it has been that way for generations in India which is the largest milk producing nation in the world. Most of India’s milk production is from buffaloes with cow’s milk coming in second.
Unlike in the United States where milk is produced in organized, large-scale dairy farms and the animals are milked through mechanical means, in India over half of the country’s milk is produced from free-roaming buffaloes and cows who are patiently hand-milked by small farmers in rural Indian villages.

While most modern recipes use refined sugar to prepare thandai, the following recipe uses honey (“shehad” शहद), which is significantly healthier and more flavorful than refined sugar. It is possible to add jaggery (an unrefined form of sugar known as “gur” in Hindi) however it may result in a untraditionally dark brown colored drink (when it’s traditionally a pale yellow or pale green if “bhang” is added).

Serves 6-7
Ingredients:

1 1/2 litres or about 6 cups fresh whole milk
4-5 tablespoons almonds – soaked overnight
2 tablespoons cashew nuts
1 tablespoon poppy seeds – soaked overnight
2 tablespoons melon seeds – soaked overnight
3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
4-6 green cardamom pods – husks discarded, seeds retained
1/2 cup or as desired honey
3/4 cup spring water
1 teaspoon rose water or 3/4 teaspoon dried rose petals or 1/2 teaspoon fresh rose petals plus a few more garnishing
A few strands saffron
1/2 – 2/3 cup pistachios – crushed

Method:

Drain off water from all three soaked ingredients. Peel almonds.

Into a heavy-bottom sauce pan, pour milk and add honey. Stir well.

Bring to a boil over medium heat.

Stop heat and set aside to cool.

Crush peeled almonds, poppy seeds, melon seeds, cashew nuts, fennel seeds, peppercorns, green cardamom seeds and rose petals (if using) into a rich paste. For grinding needs such as this, ancient Indian kitchens feature a traditional grinding tool known as a “sil batta” सिल बट्टा.

Add 1/4 cup of water and rose water (if using) and grind further to a smooth paste.

Add the ground paste to the milk-honey mixture and mix well.

Cover and let it sit for about 15-20 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth.

Set the strained milk aside.

Add 1/2 cup water to the residue and grind again.

Strain this mixture through a cheesecloth.

Add the strained liquid to the previously strained milk.

Add saffron strands and give a quick stir.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours to allow the flavors to develop.

Pour into glasses.

Garnish with crushed pistachios, slivered almonds, a few saffron strands and rose petals. Serve chilled.

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Chinese Red Date Tea / Jujube Tea 红枣茶 “Hóngzǎo Chá”

Chinese red dates or jujube (known as hóngzǎo 红枣 in Mandarin) have been used for over 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine, often prescribed to increase a person’s “qi” 气 or “life energy”. The concept of “qi” in Chinese culture is similar to India’s “prana” प्राण ; both focus on the vital life energy that flows through the human body.

Dried red dates are boiled with water to make a basic red date tea (known as hóngzǎo chá 红枣茶. “Hóngzǎo”   红枣 means “red dates” and “chá” 茶 means “tea” in Mandarin). Variations of this basic tea would feature the addition of other ingredients depending on various factors such as the weather, state of health etc. For instance, ginger would be added during winter, as ginger is believed to be warming, thus helping to provide warmth and immunity during the cold winter months. Goji berries 枸杞 “gǒuqǐ” (also known as wolfberries 杞子 “qǐ zi” ) and dried longan 龙眼 “lóngyǎn” are commonly paired when making the tea for new mothers during the month-long confinement period (zuò yuè zi 坐月子) to help restore and replenish strength and immunity.

The tea can be drunk hot or cold, depending on circumstance; during cold months, and for new mothers, it is often drunk hot. During sweltering, summer months, the tea finds favor chilled.

The tea is sometimes sweetened with honey or rock sugar, however, this is not necessary as the dates are naturally quite sweet.

Version 1 (Basic red date tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 2-3 cups water (Adjust quantity of water to your preference. For a stronger tea, reduce the quantity, for a lighter tea, increase the quantity)
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates.

Combine water and dates in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

 

Version 2 (Red dates, longan and wolfberry tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 1/2 cup longan
  • 1/2 tbsp goji berries
  • 2-3 cups water
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates, longan and goji berries.

Combine the red dates, longan, goji berries and water in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

 

Version 3 (Red dates and ginger tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 1 inch piece ginger – sliced
  • 2-3 cups water
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates.

Combine the red dates, ginger and water in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

Jaggery Tea (Gur Ki Chai गुड़ की चाय )

Jaggery tea, , a popular beverage in India known as “gur ki chai” गुड़ की चाय or “gur chai” गुड़ चाय in Hindi, is simply a drink of black tea sweetened with jaggery (an unrefined form of sugar). Jaggery tea is particularly popular among folks in northern India during winter time as jaggery is believed to provide more nutrition and warmth compared to sugar and thereby helps to ward off winter-related illnesses. Because of the unrefined nature of jaggery, it is considered to be significantly healthier than refined sugar.

The process of making jaggery was pioneered in ancient India and this ingredient has been used in Indian cuisine for centuries. In India, jaggery, which is known as “gur” गुड़ in Hindi, is made with sugarcane juice or sap extracted from palm trees such as the palmyra palm tree and date palm tree. In addition to contributing a distinct flavor, palm tree jaggeries are considered to be more nutritious than sugarcane jaggery.

Moving south to Sri Lanka the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, plain black tea, a beverage very widely drunk throughout this tropical island is usually sweetened with sugar. However, the traditional practice generations ago, was to sweeten the tea with jaggery, known as “hakuru” හකුරු in Singhalese. There was a slight difference in the sweetening method compared to Indians; jaggery tea in India is made by dissolving the jaggery in black tea whereas in Sri Lanka, a little cube of jaggery would be bitten into followed by a sip of unsweetened plain black tea. This way, the Sri Lankans believed less jaggery is consumed per cup of tea.

In Sri Lanka, the most popular types of jaggery are made with sap extracted from three types of palm trees: coconut palm, kitul palm and palmyrah palm. The sap (known as “mee-raa” මී-රා in Singhalese) is boiled down and then left to harden to form jaggery. Arguably, the kitul palm jaggery is the more popular variety of the three among Sri Lankans. Jaggery from coconut palm is known as “pol hakuru” පොල් හකුරු in Singhalese (“pol” පොල් means “coconut”), jaggery from kitul palm is known as “kitul hakuru” කිතුල් හකුරු, palmyrah jaggery is known as “thal hakuru” තල් හකුරු and sugarcane jaggery is known as “ukk hakuru” උක් හකුරු.

 

Version 1 (Indian style)

Serves: 1

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp black tea
  • 1 cup spring water
  • 1-2 cubes (about 1-2 tbsp) jaggery (or as desired)
  • 1-2 cardamom pods

Method:

In a pestle and mortar, crush the cardamom pods.

In a saucepan, combine water and jaggery.

Over medium-low heat, bring to a rolling boil.

Continue boiling till jaggery is completely dissolved.

Add black tea and crushed cardamom pods.

Bring to a boil then stop heat.

Strain to a tea cup and serve hot.

Version 2 (Indian style)

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp black tea
  • 1 cup spring water
  • 1 cube (about 1 tbsp) jaggery
  • 1 cm piece ginger – crushed in pestle and mortar
  • 1-2 cardamom pods
  • ¼ cup fresh full fat milk

Method:

Crush the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, bring spring water to a rolling boil.

Add crushed ginger, crushed cardamom pods and jaggery.

Continue boiling until jaggery dissolves.

Once jaggery dissolves, add black tea.

Bring mixture to a boil.

Add milk.

Bring to a boil.

Stop heat.

Strain tea into a tea cup.

Serve hot.

Version 3 (Sri Lankan style)

Serves: 1

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp Ceylon black tea
  • 1 cup spring water
  • 1 cube jaggery

Method:

In a pot over medium-low heat, bring spring water to a rolling boil.

Stop heat.

Add black tea.

Allow tea to brew for 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to brew any longer as the tea could end up with a bitter taste.

Strain tea into a tea cup and serve with a cube of jaggery.

Roasted Barley Tea (Damaicha 大麦茶 / Boricha 보리차 / Mugicha 麦茶)

Roasted barley tea is a refreshing beverage enjoyed in China, Korea and Japan. In China it is known as “damaicha” 大麦茶, in Korea “boricha” 보리차 and in Japan “mugicha” 麦茶. In all three languages, the word “cha” means “tea”.

Made from roasted un-hulled barley grains, the drink has slightly bitter undertones and thus may be an acquired taste, more so considering the drink is usually consumed unsweetened. Roasted barley tea is appreciated in these countries for its cooling properties with some claiming the drink to be more refreshing than water. In Japan, it is often drunk chilled as a summer drink. Its historic popularity as a summer drink may stem from the fact that barley grains are harvested in the summer season, the freshness of which makes a more flavorful beverage.

Mugicha may be one of Japan’s oldest beverages; according to Japanese history, roasted barley tea was consumed by the aristocrats of the Heian period (794-1185) during which time it was known as “mugiyu” 麦湯 .

Japanese believe barley tea helps to cleanse the body and the beverage is also consumed to promote digestion after a greasy meal. A very popular drink in Korea, barley tea is appreciated for its health benefits and is drunk on a daily basis by most (if not all) Koreans. Koreans consume the drink chilled during hot summers and warm during cold winters. The drink is not as popular in China but its popularity is increasing. Chinese generally drink barley tea hot.

While ready-made barley teas and tea bags are available, the traditional method of making the tea produces a better tasting tea. Ideally, roast the un-hulled barley just prior to making a barley tea since roasted un-hulled barley turns rancid quite quickly.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup un-hulled barley
  • 6-8 cups spring water

 

Method:

In a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat, toast the un-hulled barley, for about 10-15 minutes until the barley turns a deep, dark brown hue and is fragrant. Use a spatula to continuously stir the barley to ensure even browning.

Turn out the roasted grains to a paper towel and let cool.

In a saucepan, pour the water.

Over medium heat, bring the water to a rolling boil.

Once boiling, add in the roasted barley grains.

Turn heat down to low and simmer for about 10-20 minutes. The liquid will turn a rich brown hue; the longer the tea simmers the darker the color and the more robust the flavor.

Stop heat and let the barley steep a few minutes.

If drinking chilled, let the tea cool. Once cooled, strain the mixture into a pitcher and chill.

If drinking warm or hot, strain the barley tea and serve.

Masala Chai मसालेदार चाय

A glass of masala chai with a spoon and jaggery cubes on a serving dish, placed on a table with a deep red tablecloth and greenery in the background.

Masala chai मसालेदार चाय served with jaggery cubes.

“Chai” चाय means “tea” in Hindi and “masala chai” मसालेदार चाय means “spiced tea”.

The type of tea used is a critical determinant of the chai’s end result. Typically, when making chai with black tea, a specific type of Assam black tea called “mamri” is used. Mamri tea (known in the industry as CTC i.e., “crush, tear, curl”) is granular (as opposed to “leaf tea”) and is a strong bodied variety of tea that has the strength and depth to hold its flavor against the spices and sweeteners.

Traditionally, fresh buffalo milk (milk taken from the buffalo the same day the chai is made) and jaggery (an unrefined cane sugar known as “gur” गुड़ in Hindi) was used to make chai. Buffalo milk offers an unparalleled richness (buffalo milk is richer than cow’s milk) and the jaggery contributes a distinct flavor which results in a chai that tastes considerably different from the modern day chais made with half-and-half/reconstituted milk/UHT milk/skimmed milk and refined sugar/artificial sweeteners. It is also noteworthy that the buffalo milk traditionally used was whole buffalo milk – that is milk, cream and all.

There are no fixed recipes for masala chai and the combination of spices traditionally used varies by region and climactic conditions. For instance, ginger is considered to generate “warmth” and so it is sometimes left out on hot days but is favored on cold and wintery days or when the chai drinker is down with a common cold. Chais made in northern India are likely to contain fennel (known as “saunf” सौंफ़ in Hindi) and no peppercorns while chais from the south often have peppercorns and no fennel.

Use only the freshest spices as spices lose their flavor and aroma with age. Ideally, crush or grind the spices just before making the chai.

Adjust the quantity of jaggery to your taste. Some Indians use no sweeteners at all for their chais while chaiwallahs usually add a generous amount. The milk may curdle when boiled together with jaggery. If curdled milk is not your cup of tea, then crush the jaggery into a powder and add to the chai just before serving. Alternatively, serve the masala chai with jaggery cubes.

This recipe tries to stay true to the authentic and traditional method of making masala chai, from using jaggery as a sweetener (instead of sugar) and fresh whole spices which are ground in a pestle and mortar.

 

Version 1:

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup full fat buffalo milk
  • ½ cup spring water
  • Jaggery as desired
  • 1 tsp black tea leaves
  • 1/5 – ¼ tsp peppercorns
  • 1/5 – ¼ tsp fresh ginger – grated
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 tiny clove
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

 

Method:

Place the spices (peppercorns, cardamoms, cinnamon and clove) in a pestle and mortar and crush to a coarse mixture.

Combine all ingredients except jaggery in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring every once in a while.

Optional: as you make the chai, using a ladle, scoop some chai and pour it back down holding the ladle as high up as you can to generate some froth on the surface of the chai. This helps to combine the ingredients and is common practice among some chaiwallahs in India.

As the mixture comes to a boil and bubbles appear on the sides of the pan, stir more frequently, scraping the bottom and the sides of the pan to prevent the milk from scalding.

As the mixture boils, it will change to a rich and deeper hue and foam will begin to rise. Be careful it could spill over. Take off the heat and give a good, thorough stir.

Put back on the heat and bring the mixture to a boil again.

Stop the heat and stir well.

Allow to steep for a few minutes.

Strain and add crushed jaggery as desired or serve accompanied with cubes of jaggery.

 

Version 2:

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup spring water
  • ½ cup full fat buffalo milk
  • 1 clove
  • 1-2 green cardamom pods
  • ½ inch stick cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp grated ginger (optional)
  • Pinch fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp black tea leaves
  • Jaggery as desired

 

Method:

Place the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar and crush to a coarse mixture.

Pour the water to a cast iron or stainless steel saucepan along with the crushed spices and grated ginger.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a low boil. The longer the mixture boils the more robust the spice flavor.

Once boiled to your liking, add tea leaves.

Bring to a boil. The longer the mixture boils the stronger the flavors of tea and spices don’t over boil as doing so could make the tea taste bitter.

Add the milk and bring a boil. Stir every now and then. Using a ladle, scoop some chai and then pour it back down holding the ladle as high up as you can to generate some froth on the surface of the chai.

Stop flame.

Allow the chai to steep a few minutes.

Strain to a cup.

Stir in crushed jaggery as desired and serve.