Two hands stirring coffee cups with a piece of art on the wall that says, "One day at a time, Darling."

Autumn personifies the transience of life. Fall reminds me that times of change are lovely. This season, centered on harmony, restores balance. It evokes feelings of warmth, consolation and reflection.

While chai is enjoyed year-round, it’s particularly suited for autumn because it’s filled with the same nostalgic comfort. When I think of chai, I imagine cradling the spicy aroma in a warm cup. In this season, it’s my extra dose of comfort.

While chai is enjoyed year-round, it’s particularly suited for autumn because it’s filled with the same nostalgic comfort.

The Indian beverage, masala chai (meaning spiced tea), dates back centuries. The drink is made with black tea, milk and a range of spices and herbs. Of course, recipes vary across cultures and individual preference. 

I’m intrigued by the art of brewing tea. I’ve taken a recent interest in learning about the ritualistic traditions of drinking tea. I read that in India, chai calls for a pause in the workday. People take time to reflect and refresh. This same stillness represents autumn. As nature prepares for the coming winter, we seek rest and renewal within ourselves. 

Chai has a complex history. Yet, it’s become a cultural symbol synonymous with hospitality. Consumed for its healing and restorative properties, chai boosts immunity, reduces inflammation, aids digestion, lowers blood pressure and much more. Ironically, it’s the seasoned sweetness that has propelled the drink’s global popularity. 

Chai has…become a cultural symbol synonymous with hospitality.

We’re all too familiar with chai as it’s served in every café and coffee shop, usually in the form of a latte. I’ll admit the trend of dirty chai lattes is my personal favorite. Yet, I invite us to acknowledge the cultural significance of the Indian-inspired beverage as we gather this season. I aim to honor the bliss and communal aspects of indulging in these soothing flavors.

Below is my take on a chai spice mix. I follow a plant-based diet, and this simple mix is great for many dietary needs including dairy-free, gluten-free and free of added sugar.

Chai Spice Mix

(Makes roughly 1 cup)

Ingredients

  •     5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  •     3 ½ tablespoons ground ginger
  •     4 teaspoons ground cardamom
  •     1 teaspoon ground cloves
  •     1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Combine all spices in a glass jar and mix well. Store in the pantry. 

I’ve blended this mix with black tea and almond milk to make lattes. If you’re caffeine-free or searching for a nighttime drink, then omitting the tea and simply using almond milk makes a gorgeous beverage. However, I will note that fresh, whole spices work better for lattes. I use this mix for my quick chai fix. It stores great, and I can add chai spices to different recipes all season.

This mix is best in all kinds of baked goods, soups, smoothies, salad dressings and more. Below are four plant-based chai recipes perfect for the season.

Chai Spiced Baked Oatmeal

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups gluten-free rolled oats
  • >¾ cup almond milk (or your preferred dairy-free milk alternative)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoon chai mix
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Spray an 8-by-8 inch pan. 
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients: oats, flaxseed, chai mix, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the liquid ingredients: almond milk, maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry mixture and stir until well combined.
  5. Fill the pan with the oatmeal.
  6. Bake until golden brown—about 30 minutes.
  7. Slice into squares. Serve in a bowl, topped with mixed berries and almond milk.

Cold Brew Affogato with Chai Ice Cream

(Serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana (make sure to freeze an overly ripe banana. It gives the ice cream its sweetness.)
  • ½ teaspoon chai mix
  • 1/3 cup almond milk (or your preferred dairy-free milk alternative)
  • 1 cup cold brew coffee

Directions

  1. Place the frozen banana, chai mix and almond milk in a blender. Blend until smooth. 
  2. Transfer the ice cream into a tight air container and freeze for 1-2 hours.
  3. Scoop the ice cream into two glasses and pour over the cold brew coffee. Enjoy immediately. 

Chai Spiced Bananas

(Serves 1-2)

Ingredients

  •     ¾ teaspoon coconut oil
  •     ¼ cup maple syrup
  •     2 tablespoons chai spice mix
  •     1 banana (a plantain, at peak ripeness, would also work great)

Directions

  1. Cut the banana into slices about 1 inch thick.
  1. In a small bowl, pour maple syrup. In a separate small bowl, pour the chai spice mix.
  1. In a large skillet, melt the coconut oil on medium heat.
  1. Coat both sides of the banana in the maple syrup and spice mix and place directly into the skillet.
  2. Once the bananas start to sizzle, cook about five minutes. A dark crust will start to form. Flip the bananas and cook on the other side for another five minutes.
  3. Enjoy it warm! Perfect as a snack or dessert. 

Chai Spiced Peanut Butter

(Serves 1)

Ingredients

  •     1 tablespoon peanut butter
  •     1/2 tsp chai mix

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Serve on toast, waffles, apple slices and oatmeal.

What’s your favorite chai-flavored recipe to make? What food/drinks feel like autumn to you?

Image via Tony Li

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