Soy, rice or other? We put dairy alternatives to the test to find the best chai


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Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2012, 1:59 pm
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By Laura Anderson Shaw
When you've got chai tea, all you really need is a good book, a warm blanket, and a place to curl up on the couch, right?

Well, sort of. After a recent taste test, our staff learned quickly that the type of milk you throw in the mix matters quite a bit, too. Traditionally combined with dairy, chai works wonderfully with alternatives like soy and almond milk as well. That got us wondering. With an ever-expanding lineup of dairy alternatives at the market, which would make for the tastiest beverage?

At our blind taste test, we sipped, discussed, praised (and in one instance, roundly rejected) the many tastes and textures revealed by the different combinations of chai mixed with soy, almond, oat, hemp and rice milk.

When we learned which was which, we had a debate on our hands. A couple of staff members were not fans of the oat milk combination because it had a bit of an aftertaste and was a tad on the gritty side, as though the ingredients didn't blend well. I, on the other hand, found that the oat milk chai was my favorite. It was very sweet and had a fullness to it the other samples lacked. I could easily get over the grittiness for the creaminess!

When it came to the almond and soy milk samples, some taste testers described the resulting chais as very smooth with a "clean taste" and "no lingering aftertaste." However, a couple of other staff members, myself included, found these samples to be flat, watery and not as sweet as some of the other chais.

There was more consensus on the rice milk. This chai was thicker and described as "nicely spicy" and consistent with a "lingering spicy aftertaste." One staff member who is in the habit of buying almond milk said the bright, spicy taste of the rice milk inspired her to make a switch the next time she was in the store.

At the very bottom of the rankings was the mix of chai with hemp milk. When it comes to nutrition, hemp milk had the second to lowest calorie count per cup of all of our dairy alternatives, behind only almond milk. It's too bad it didn't have a more balanced flavor-to-benefits ratio. Off-putting white flakes floated atop the light brown drink, and it smelled and tasted almost grassy.

Not much of a milk drinker, dairy or otherwise? Chai recipes typically call for half chai mix, half milk, but for a change of pace, you can forgo the milk completely and add your favorite apple cider. When the spices in the chai meet the slight tang of the cider, the flavors fuse together to create a flavor that can only be described as "ahh."

So which would be your cup of tea? Grab your milk — be it new or familiar — or some cider, whip up some chai and have yourself a beverage adventure.

Spiced Chai Mix
4 1/2 cups water
1 stick cinnamon
8 whole cardamom pods
3 whole star anise pods
10 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled, sliced into thin rounds
10 teaspoons of black tea (or 10 bags)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
In a large saucepan or medium pot, bring the water to a boil, and remove from heat. Add the spices, orange zest, ginger and tea, and allow the mixture to steep for 15 minutes.
Strain the mixture into a 4-cup measuring cup or bowl, discarding the spices. Add the sugar, honey and vanilla and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the mixture into a jar and store in the refrigerator, where it can keep for up to 2 weeks.
To serve, mix 1 part strained tea mixture with 1 part milk or dairy-free alternative of choice. Heat for a warm beverage or pour over ice.
Recipe adapted from "A Wooden Nest"






 












 



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  Today is Thursday, July 31, the 212th day of 2014. There are 153 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: A corps of surgeons now occupies the new hospital quarters at the Garrison Hospital on the Rock Island Arsenal. A fence has been installed to enclose the prison hospital.
1889 -- 125 years ago: B. Winter has let a contract to Christ Schreiner for a two story brick building with a double store front on the south side of 3rd Avenue just west of 17th Street. The estimated cost was $4,500.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Germany sent simultaneous ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding that Russia suspend mobilization within 12 hours and demanding that France inform Germany within 18 hours. In the case of war between Germany and Russia, France would remain neutral.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Civil service offices at the post office and the Rock Island Arsenal were swamped as more than 700 youths sought 15 machinist apprenticeships at the Arsenal.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Last night, American Legion Post 246 in Moline figuratively handed over the trousers to a female ex-Marine and petticoat rule began. Olga Swanson, of Moline, was installed as the first woman commander of the post .
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illinois Quad City Civic Center captured the excitement and interest of a convention of auditorium managers this weekend in Reno, Nev. Bill Adams, civic center authority chairman, said the 10,000-seat arena planned for downtown Moline has caught the eye of construction firms, suppliers, management teams and concession groups.








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