The first thing to note is that chai tea is kindof like chili in the States- everyone has their own recipe that they love, and there are a million different ways to make it. So please don't take the ingredients in my recipe as a hard-and-fast rule- mix and match the flavors you love and experiment until you find the blend you love!
The ingredients I use in my chai are: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and black tea (I add sugar and milk later too). Other ingredients commonly included in chai are star anise, cloves, and black pepper. I like to use decaf black tea so that I can drink it any time of day (I always make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for later)- I just get basic tea at the grocery store.
I've found that the key to making chai is using whole spices. I used to use powdered versions of all of these spices and it just wasn't the same. I've found whole cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks are cheapest at my local Indian food market, but most health food stores (Whole Foods etc) have them as well. The nice thing is a little goes a long way, so one bag will last you a long while. And I guarantee whole cardamom anywhere is cheaper than ground- have you seen how expensive a bottle of ground cardamom is?!? It boggles my mind.... Fresh ginger is easy to find at almost any grocery store, and I keep what I don't use in the freezer.
To get a nice, spicy, full-flavored chai, the spices need time to simmer, I start off by cracking open the cardamom pods (you don't have to but you'll get a lot more flavor this way) and shaving off some pieces of ginger with a knife, and putting all 3 spices into a pot full of water, then I bring it to a boil over high heat (for a medium-sized pot, I tend to use 3-4 cinnamon sticks, a handful of cardamom, and 4-5 pieces of ginger).
Once the water is boiling, add the tea bags. I usually use around 6 tea bags, since I'm making a huge batch. If you want a stronger tea flavor, boiling longer is NOT the answer- you want to add more tea bags. Reduce to medium heat to keep it at a slow boil, and steep the tea bags with the spices for the number of minutes it says on the tea bags- usually somewhere around 5 minutes (if you leave the tea bags in too long it will turn bitter, so set a timer for this part!). If your tea bags have strings with little paper tags on them, cut off the tags before putting them in the pot. That way you don't have to worry about them bubbling around the pot and getting paper in your chai.
Remove the tea bags from the pot and reduce to low heat while the spices continue to simmer. If you want to prevent the tea from reducing too much, cover the pot. If you, like me, want your house to smell like heaven, leave it uncovered (trust me, it's worth it). At this point, the longer you simmer, the stronger the spices will be. Taste it every so often until it has the spiciness level you're looking for (and keep in mind that the flavor will get a little bit stronger if you keep it for later in the fridge, and the flavor will obviously get weaker if you add sweetener or milk later).
Once your spice blend is to your liking, turn off the heat. Pour out the tea over a strainer into a bowl (or sealed container if you're keeping extra in the fridge). Don't throw away the spices! I leave them in the strainer for a while to let most of the water drip off, then put it all in a small dish in my living room for some amazing potpourri! I also reuse the cinnamon sticks in my next batch. They'll last through many rounds of boiling.
I like to add my sweetener to each cup so that if guests want some they can adjust it to their taste, but if you want to add sweetener to the whole batch now is the time: I use sugar (brown or white), but honey or other sweeteners will work too. I'll warn you- if you're used to American coffeeshop chai, you're probably going to need a LOT of sweetener to get the same sweetness.You can also counteract a batch that got too spicy with some extra sweetener.
If you're saving some for later, definitely leave the milk out until you're ready to drink. I use whole milk and use a frother to make it more of a "latte" but that is really not necessary for a good chai- just get it heated through in a kettle or microwave. Sit down with your steaming cup of chai and breath in the best of fall!
I hope you'll give this chai tea recipe a try this fall. What are your favorite spices to put in your chai?