Handmade Food Gift Ideas: Chocolate Chai

Chocolate chai with bay leaf, star anise, and dried orange rind
Chocolate chai with bay leaf, star anise, and dried orange rind

The flavors in chai are perfect for the holiday season, with spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom evocative of festive winter favorites like pumpkin pie, eggnog, and mulled wine. Chocolate is a Western addition, but it complements chai’s other flavors and cushions the spiciness of ingredients like black pepper and ginger. What’s more, chocolate is considered an anti-oxidant due to its many cancer and heart disease-fighting flavonoids, so it enhances the tonic nature of chai, used in Ayurvedic cuisine to aid in digestion and circulation.

Orange rind and ginger shavings, fresh (above) and dehydrated (below)

Chocolate chai mix is a great gift because it lasts for at least a year at room temperature, so there’s no pressure to consume it right away. More importantly, it’s unsweetened. Most of the time when I order chai in a café, it comes from an over-sweetened mix, but here, it’s up to the individual to add as much or as little sweetener as they care to, whether it be honey, maple syrup, or sugar. In addition, chai mix is versatile; it can flavor pancakes, muffins, biscotti, or anything in which you would use cocoa powder.

Coriander seeds
Coriander seeds

I grind whole spices into the chai because they have more flavor than those that are pre-ground. Cinnamon and cloves are the only ones I don’t bother grinding because they’re tough to break down. Recently purchased pre-ground spices will work just fine, but I recommend passing them through a sifter in case there are clumps or stray matter.


The chai spice combination is fluid, varying with region, family, and preference. In my search for chai recipes, I found that the essential Indian ingredients include cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper. Beyond that, it’s up to your personal taste. I used as many spices as I could get away with, but using the core five ingredients will bring results that are just as tasty.


There are lots of eco-friendly options for packaging the chai, including a recycled paper bag tied with a ribbon, a reusable glass jar, or a tea tin. In a Japanese market, I found simple tea tins that hold 1¼ cups of tea for $3.50 each. Tied with a ribbon they are spare and elegant. I attach a tag that lists the ingredients, so people can appreciate all of the different spices that went into the mix, and see if they can detect the many flavors. I make the tags from old cards, postcards, and wrapping paper. I simply cut the card to the size I want, fold it in half, and punch a hole in the corner for a string.


Be sure to keep some of this chai mix for yourself. It’s a warming treat for cold bones on a dreary day, and the smell alone will transport you to a fragrant Silk Road garden in bloom.

Recipe: Chocolate Chai Mix

Start this recipe the day before making it so the ginger shavings and orange rind have time to dehydrate. Adjust the quantity of the spices according to your personal taste.

Yield: about 10 cups (fills 8 1¼ cup tea tins)

2 organic oranges
1 2”x2” piece of ginger
2 quarts Fair Trade cocoa powder
6 tablespoons cardamom pods
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 tablespoons nutmeg, chopped into a few pieces
4 tablespoons allspice berries
4 tablespoons ground cloves
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
8 whole star anise
8 bay leaves

Peel the skin from the ginger and discard. Shave the ginger into thin strips with the peeler, and lay the peels on a baking sheet with space in between for air to circulate. Scrub the oranges under water and dry them thoroughly. Moving clockwise, peel from top to bottom so you are left with several strips. Lay the peeled rind on a pan with space in between for air to circulate.

Leave the pans out overnight in a warm place, if possible, like the top of an oven or a radiator. In 12-24 hours the peels should be dry and flexible. If they’re not, give them a little more time, or put them in the oven at 200F° for 15-30 minutes. Set the dehydrated orange rind aside.

Put the cocoa powder in a large bowl, and set a sifter or fine mesh strainer on top. Using a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder, grind the ginger, cardamom, fennel, black pepper, coriander, nutmeg, and allspice. Work in batches, pouring each into the sifter as you finish. When all of the spices are ground, sift them into the cocoa, using your fingers to push the spices through if necessary. Discard the bits of husk and seed left over in the strainer. Sift in the cloves and cinnamon.

Stir the spices into the cocoa, and portion the chai mix into containers. Press a whole star anise, a bay leaf, and a few pieces of the orange rind into the top of each container and seal tightly. To serve, put a large spoonful of chocolate chai in a cup and stir in hot water, milk, and sweetener of choice.

3 thoughts on “Handmade Food Gift Ideas: Chocolate Chai

  1. I drink hot chocolate every single morning come winter or summer.
    I never thought to put anything else in it besides the chocolate and cacao…
    Your photos are beautiful!
    Why not put them on Flickr?
    There are so many foodies who would enjoy them there…

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