You'll be making this one all winter long. 

By Chris Malloy
December 23, 2019

Hot beverages like mulled wine, glühwein, and Irish coffee can bring a deeply comforting warmth on cold, gray days. If you yourself have tasted and felt the magic of a well-made hot cocktail come winter, consider taking a half-step outside the box and trying a new one this season. This cocktail doesn’t require any special technique. You don’t need any instruments beyond what’s likely close at hand in your kitchen. It has just two ingredients—well, two plus water—and they come together with little effort.

The ingredients? Chai and Irish cream. (You can buy both at Trader Joe's.)

In many ways, this hot beverage tastes like a relative of a honeyed, milky chai, or even a relative of chai latte. But it is different, taken by Irish cream (the liqueur) to a surprising place. The drink is chai seen through the heat-fogged window of a Galway pub at night. You get all the spiciness of chai, the warming flavors like ginger, cloves, and cardamom. These shine through alongside the further warming touches of caffeine, heat, and a little alcohol.

Irish cream—Bailey’s is the most prominent brand, but Trader Joe's has their own called Golden Vale Irish Cream Liqueur—functions almost like your standard milk addition to hot tea. Only this isn’t milk, but a lush, dairy-rich concoction that blends flavors like aged whisky, chocolate, and vanilla into a whole so tight that, without looking at an ingredient label, it’s hard to tell what the components are. Irish cream draws out the wintry goodness of the chai, and the chai gains richness and nuance from the Irish cream.

In short: lots of made-for winter flavors meld nicely.

In making the cocktail, any Irish cream will do. Bailey’s, Trader Joe's Golden Vale Irish Cream, or TJ's new Cocoa Cream Liqueur are all delicious options. Some other options on the market come with added flavor, like mint-chocolate or hazelnut. Though these are certainly worth testing when making this cocktail, the flavors of an original Irish cream result in a fine balance.

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For the second ingredient, chai, you can take a similarly open-ended approach. A wide range of chai-style spiced black teas work. The one I use is the spiced chai from Trader Joe’s, the one that comes in an orange box with an elephant on the front. This chai uses Assam tea leaves and a host of spices including star anise, nutmeg, black pepper, and roasted chicory. For a tea that comes in a bag (rather than loose leaf), it has a pleasant spice blend and intensity.

Now you have your two ingredients. Time to make the hot cocktail. It’s about as easy as you might think.

First, steep two chai teabags in hot water for about five minutes. Two or three times over that five minutes, pull on the tea strings attached to the bags, circling the bags through the cup. If your teabags lack strings, use a spoon to gently agitate the teabag so that its color visibly and more quickly takes to the water. This step is to more fully infuse the flavors of tea leaves and spices into your drink.

After five minutes, remove the tea bags. Add two or three tablespoons of Irish cream. Taste the drink, and feel free to add more. You might feel like a little more of the Irish cream on colder nights, for a richer and slightly stronger version. A cup unites two ingredients, sure, but those two ingredients contain many. That’s the beauty of this cocktail: in a busy time of year, you don’t have to do much work for a burst of spiced warmth and flavor.

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