Growing up, whenever my mother made her dandelion-hued chickpea curry with puris, there was a ceremony of thorough hand washing after. My parents kept a nail brush in the upstairs bathroom drawer and, while I may be remembering my grandfather’s, I remember it as the style with an open, flattened oval as its handle.  I could shape my fist around it for a firmer grip. Its short, stubby white bristles pricked the pads of my fingers sharply but made gratifying progress of scrubbing away the turmeric stains from beneath my nails.

Frothy Turmeric Tea | Tara O'Brady

Nowadays, the turmeric in my pantry has a note tucked in its jar. It's from my dad, who has particularly distinctive handwriting that's narrow and tall. He used to write against a ruler to keep his lines neat as he filled out the collection of forms required of a ship's captain at each port. Even still, his penmanship looks as though it's curved against a straight edge.

The note simply says "turmeric from your grandfather's house." In the nearish future, Grandpa's house will no longer be ours, so my stash feels particularly precious. I've been metering it in meticulous portions, trying to make it last as long as possible. 

Week before last, Tejal Rao wrote about her grandmother and the position of turmeric in her household. Then last week, somewhat of an offshoot from the conversation she started and in response to the recent treatment of turmeric as innovation, I had a piece in The Globe and Mail about traditions becoming trend, and the uncomfortable realties that can arise in the process.

On Instagram I mentioned the turmeric tea I've been making—its milk and water base is sweet but not candied. It is buzzy with ginger, warmed by cinnamon and a miserly dispensation of pepper, and rounded out with soothing cardamom. Turmeric dyes everything day-glo golden, and adds an earthy astringency. Black tea provides fragrance and structure. As some of you expressed an interest in it, here it is.

Since Sean prefers coffee in the morning and I want wring the most possible flavour out of the whole spices, I make a provocatively strong concentrate in a biggish batch, then reheat servings as needed. I froth some milk for its cap, but whisked or blended milk would work just as well. Or, just pour in plain hot milk, without the addition of bubbles.

I like the tea best with condensed milk, a fondness I'm sure I picked up from my grandmother, who at boarding school would sip on cans of the stuff in secret. It gives weight to the tea that I find especially soothing. I have mine at the hottest temperature I can stand, taking breaths around each sip. Somehow the practice seems vaguely ceremonial in a way that makes me feel as though I'm taking good care. 

 

FROTHY TURMERIC TEA

Adapted from a recipe from Tejal Rao in the New York Times, with my grandmother's influence.

Serves 4

FOR THE CONCENTRATE

  • 1 cup | 240 ml water
  • 1/4 cup | 60 ml sweetened condensed milk
  • A 2-inch piece of ginger, see note
  • 6 to 8 green cardamom pods, split
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric, or a 1 1/2-inch piece fresh, peeled and grated
  • 2 cups | 480 ml milk of choice
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ghee or coconut oil, optional
  • 0.5 oz | 15 g black tea or 4 black tea bags

FOR EACH DRINK

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup | 80 to 120 ml milk of choice, steamed and frothed
  • Ground pistachios for dusting

METHOD

In a heavy saucepan, stir together the water, condensed milk, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, an turmeric. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the milk into the syrup, and spoon in the ghee. Bring to a boil again, and then knock back the heat to a simmer for another 3 minutes. Pop in the tea, and let bubble for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. Strain the concentrate through a fine meshed sieve—I find it neatest to do so into a wide jug or large liquid measuring cup with a pouring spout—and press on the solids in the basket to extract as much liquid as possible. If using the concentrate later, decant it to a jar for storage. Refrigerate until needed.

For each drink, pour one quarter hot concentrate into each cup. Top with the steaming, frothed milk, and the ground pistachios. Serve immediately. 

NOTES:

  • I use almond milk for the concentrate, and then cow's milk for finishing as I'm terribly bad at establishing a foam on the former (though I've not yet those blends aimed at stretching). I realize that makes three milks in one recipe, so use what you like. If you want to omit the condensed milk, use 1/4 cup cane sugar in its place, adding the sugar with the water to start, or honey or maple syrup instead. 
  • If making the concentrate in advance, skip the ghee as it will separate from the brew when chilled. Stir it into the reheated concentrate right before serving.
  • Grating the ginger will produce a much more assertive cuppa. To tone it down, slice or chop the root instead.
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