Orange, a common fruit these days, has a long and questionable history. Many countries claim to be its birthplace, including China, India, Burma, and Malaysia. During the Middle Ages, the fruit travelled from Asia to Europe, then along with the conquistadors to the lands of the New World. In its new home, the orange plant became fruitful (so to speak) and multiplied. Today, the Americas are the largest orange producers in the world, with most production clustered around the areas of Sao Paulo in Brazil and Florida in the United States.
It is said that in 1830, an Englishman named Charles Earl Grey traveled on a diplomatic mission to China, where in return for his act of kindness, a local man presented him with the recipe for making this distinctive tea. A few corrections are in order. Firstly, the Chinese have never been black tea drinkers, and were unlikely to have a recipe for Earl Grey to bestow on visitors. Secondly, Charles Earl Grey never set foot in China. Otherwise, the story is completely true.
Caramelisation is the result of removing water from sugar using heat. The sugar is heated slowly to about 170ºC, and the molecules break down and re-form into compounds with a characteristic colour and flavour. You could also start with a mixture of sugar and water, if you’re concerned about the sugar browning too quickly. To make caramel sauce, heavy cream is added near the end and quickly whisked to integrate it into the dark syrup and prevent burning.
Historically, tea in India was viewed as a herbal medicine, rather than as a beverage for taste. Some chai spice blends still in current use are derived from Ayurvedic medical texts. Popular spices include anise, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, peppercorn and ginger. Traditional preparation actually calls for the spices, milk and leaves to be simmered over sustained heat, rather than steeped in preheated water (like regular tea). In India, chai is served in little clay cups from chai carts. After enjoying your tea, the cups are shattered on the ground and allowed to compost – an earth-friendly alternative to paper or plastic cups.
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