My big sister from my sorority was really big on studying at coffee shops and diners. One of our main sisterly activities was going to Waffle House to spend a few hours studying art history (her) and Russian grammar (me). But I really, really hate Waffle House. (Sorry, everyone in the South, but it’s just gross. I don’t even like their pecan pie, and that’s saying something.) So eventually we started going to the coffee shop part of Borders instead.
Some of you who were around in Athens, Ga., at the time may be shocked and appalled that we didn’t go to Blue Sky — the cool, independent coffee house downtown that was put out of business by the evil Starbucks. And we both did really like Blue Sky. It’s just that it was really dark and loud in there, which is not ideal for studying. Borders was bright, quiet, and had a free and easily accessible parking lot. Plus a really cute guy from my Russian class worked there.
It was at that Borders cafe that Julie first introduced me to chai.
As someone who always drank tea and never liked coffee unless it had tons of milk, sugar and preferably some chocolate in it, chai is the perfect drink. And now, many years after my first drink at Borders (RIP), it’s available almost everywhere. But I never really knew how to make the sweet, spicy, milky drink on my own — at least not without a carton of chai mix.
Turns out, it’s super easy. I used vanilla coconut milk from Trader Joe’s because I’m totally obsessed with it (and it’s already sweet and vanilla-flavored, so there’s no need to add any more sugar). But you can make it with regular milk or almond milk… or whatever kind of milk you like.
I totally recommend this vanilla coconut milk, though. It’s awesome. And vegan, as an added bonus. Perfect for studying… or not.
Vegan vanilla chai (Adapted from “Meena Pathak Celebrates Indian Cooking,” Makes 2 small servings)
2 cups vanilla coconut milk
4 teaspoons black tea leaves or one tea bag (use a tea bag with whole leaves or it won’t be tea-y enough)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1-inch piece of a cinnamon stick
6 or 7 fresh mint leaves
Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir and reduce heat to simmer for about 3 minutes, or until chai is the color of milky tea. Remove from heat and cover. Allow to sit for 1 minute, then strain into tea cup(s) and serve immediately.