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How to Pick the Best Chai Spices
When selecting masala chai spices, it is wise to choose the freshest, organic, finest quality, whole spices available. From an Ayurvedic standpoint, high quality in a spice means that it is full of prana, or life-force. Using prana-full spices makes the chai come alive. Old, stale or powdered spices, on the other hand, will produce a lifeless end result.
Within a plant, prana is the living intelligence that is transferred to our body upon ingestion and digestion. This botanical intelligence is what communicates to our cellular intelligence how to go about healing itself. To protect the life- force of the spices, it is important to keep the spice intact, in its whole form, until it is placed into the simmering water that will extract its prana. The easiest way to do this is by purchasing whole spices instead of powder: fresh ginger root, whole cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and so on. When using spices that have been pulverized on the other side of the world months before and have been sitting on the shelf for just as long, this prana, along with flavor and healing potential, has escaped by the process of oxidation. For this reason it is also beneficial to store spices in airtight glass, porcelain or tin containers, preferably in a relatively cool, dark location in the kitchen.
The best tools to have are a mortar and pestle, an electric spice grinder and a coarse grater. Indian chai wallahs will often just use a rock to smash the spices. We have heard of sadhus, or wandering monks, who simply crush the spices in their teeth, but we do not recommend this. Personally, we use a coarse grater for the fresh ginger, the electric spice grinder for the hard cardamom pods and a mortar and pestle for everything else. Perhaps the most important benefit of processing the spices manually is that one’s own energy, or prana, is infused into the spices as they are crushed. This is where chai making can become an alchemical art, as one transmutes one’s chai into a golden prayer for friends and family.
Traditional masala chai spices help to increase the body’s prana in other ways. Ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and other chai spices support the function of the lungs, thereby allowing one to absorb more elemental air prana through the breath. In addition, almost all of the spices are digestives that help the body assimilate nutritive prana from food. And many of the warming chai spices act to burn up toxins in the body, thus clearing away unwanted sludge that impedes the flow of healing prana through the channels of the body. Honoring the prana and innate wisdom of the spices, therefore, is paramount as we prepare a deliciously healthy cup of masala chai.