The IDEA behind Adagio’s interpretation of this tea isn’t completely irrational.
Masala Chai is, afterall, generally made with very low quality tea, but then again – that’s the point. You don’t need to add sugar, spice and everything nice to GOOD tea. Masala Chai plays off its own unsophistication by making all the add-ins part of its personality. The tea is really just a base for the other ingredients to play out on your taste buds. It’s harsh and bitter enough that it gives even tea purists an excuse to throw in some milk (or, in my case, soymilk) and sugar (again, in my case, vegan sugar) so mellow it out, making it more of a fun treat than just a tea.
In that sense, making the tea with anything other than CTC Assam, promising a bold, straight forward flavor, is nothing but a novel experiment. Maybe I would be giving this tea a higher rating if I hadn’t had the following experience with it:
I wanted to make some Masala Chai for my girlfriend and her mom. They’ve both done a great deal of cooking for me over the months, and as I can’t make much more than a sandwich (and even then, not a good one) I wanted to repay the effort with something I CAN cook. My sister and I used to make MC in the kitchen almost every night, with a pan, a simple syrup, the tea, and some milk.
So I tried doing the same thing at my girlfriend’s place, with high expectations from all.
The first thing I noticed, as I neared what should have been the end of the process, was that the tea’s flavor was completely nonexistent amongst the soymilk and spices – what I didn’t know, was that the tea I was brewing was MUCH weaker than what should be used in a Masala Chai. So I brewed it longer, and eventually added more tea. I spent probably half an hour in the kitchen, trying my hardest to salvage something about of the mess. The end result, which I begrudgingly and with a great amount of chagrin served, was only drinkable because of the vast amounts of sugar I had to pour in. The ginger was absolutely overpowering, and the only flavor this “higher quality” product contributed was the unpleasantness of an over-stewed tea.
There’s definitely room in the world of tea to experiment, but when you undermine the driving concept behind a certain tea, maybe you should second-guess yourself. Maybe it’s my fault for not paying attention to the specifics of what I was buying, but when it goes to something like Masala Chai, the only variance I should be seeing is in the ratio of spices, not the tea itself.