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About fifteen-ish years ago, we Americans started to get obsessed with chai, and since then the drink has had an arguably greater impact on the nation's food habits than tikka masala. What Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts isn't offering a chai tea* latte these days?
*As we've mentioned before, "chai" means "tea," so "chai tea" is an amusingly redundant term.
But beyond all the powdered mixes and drink concentrates and manufactured mishegas is an honest drink worth celebrating: full bodied tea, its tannins tamed by boiled milk and plenty of sugar, with aggressive but balanced spicing. Today's commercial chai blends emphasize vanilla and cinnamon above all else, but real chai takes a more interesting route: black pepper, ginger, anise, and possibly cardamom are some of the dominant flavors—depending, of course, on a chai maker's whims.
This ice cream is an attempt to recreate that flavor profile in a new form, and if you're a fan of boldly flavored Indian chai, it will do you right. Black pepper, star anise, and ginger come through most of all. They're bolstered by a backbone of strong black tea (Assam is perfect here, though English Breakfast or Orange Pekoe work too) and a spice blend that includes cardamom, coriander, and clove.
Whole spices that you toast yourself work best in this ice cream, but ground versions will do just fine too. When selecting a tea, keep it simple. Scented or flavored teas will only distract; a robust black tea with some tannic bite is all you need.