It’s morning. It’s quiet. In an hour or so, the morning crew will start to appear, the vacuum will run, the lights will go on, and the chatter of the day crew will fill the space that’s now peaceful.
I stir the warm milk with a worn wooden spoon, standing with one foot on top of the other before my large, black stove. The smell of cardamom and cinnamon gathers around me as I toast the spices; they scratch the iron surface of the pan rhythmically as I shake the it over the flame. The scones bake in the oven below. Behind me is a bar stool, placed before the table I’ll spend the next 10 hours pivoting toward from the stove, exchanging grilling, sautéing and broiling for cutting, assembling and plating. But for now the table is empty, save a rough-hewn, handmade coffee cup; a robin’s egg blue, cloth napkin; mismatched cutlery and a ramekin filled with unsalted butter.
I pour the tea from the chipped green pot into the warm milk. The ginger in the hot tea releases its pungent, lemony fragrance as the milk and tea combine, filling the kitchen with their combined aroma. I lower the flame and sit, for a moment, enjoying the quiet space, the morning light, and the anticipation of hot scones, butter, jam and tea.
In the day ahead, this room will be overtaken by the controlled chaos necessary to feed whomever shows up hungry. It’ll take on the sounds and smells of a busy restaurant—dishware against metal tabletops, the wet spray of the dishwasher, the frantic sizzle of fries hitting the hot oil, servers calling out checks. I’ll cocoon myself in the cloud of the rush as I slip into the space between active thought and well-practiced routine. The puzzle of each check will be solved by pushing direct thought out of the way, and letting my hands and my feet lead me through in that mysterious way they do, every day.
But right now, I can hear the light morning traffic outside the window. It’s still Stephan Grappelli’s shift on the stereo, and he’s in no rush, not like the urgent punk rock that will replace him in a few hours. The timer rings, and it’s time to eat, and linger, and savor.
This is nothing like the stuff from a powder, which, whether you know it or not, is what they use at most coffee shops. I’d know, since I famously sent Bon Appetite a request to get the chai recipe from my favorite coffee shop only to find out it was created via a particularly low-brow mix, not tenderly prepared from hand-selected spices and gently steeped tea. Once you’ve tasted the real thing, you’ll never be silly enough to make that mistake again. That is, if you were that silly to begin with.
- Brew a pot of black tea using bags or loose tea, your choice. Consider making it a little stronger than usual, since you’ll be adding a lot of milk. As it steeps, add a few chunks of fresh ginger.
- Pour an equal amount of milk into a saucepan and warm it gently.
- Toast about a teaspoon each of cardamom pods and whole cloves, about four black peppercorns and a whole cinnamon stick. Do this in a dry pan, gently, over a low flame, keeping the spices moving constantly by shaking the pan. What you want is to toast the spices just enough to release a lovely, toasty fragrance. You’ll know. Let them cool after toasting.
- Grind the toasted spices and add them to the tea. Let it steep some more. While you do this, listen to music, work on your scones or read the paper.
- After a while, pour your tea through a fine-mesh strainer into your warm milk. Stir, and remove from heat.
- Add vanilla, maple syrup, honey, or whatever else sounds tasty. Or, if you prefer, add nothing at all.
- Enjoy slowly, with scones.
Chocolate & Rosemary Scones
- 1 c. Whole wheat flour (or other flour of your choice)
- 5 t sugar
- 1 T baking powder
- 1/2 t salt
- 6T unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
- 1 C chopped chocolate, as dark as you can find it
- 2 t rosemary, chopped very fine
- 1/2 c. soured milk or buttermilk
Pre-heat your oven to 425º F. Whisk your dry ingredients together, then cut in cold butter. Add chocolate and rosemary, stir. Add soured milk/buttermilk and mix until it just holds together (don’t overmix, and add small amounts of milk here if needed).
Divide dough into two halves, then press each half into a thick circle about 8 inches in diameter. Cut each circle into six wedges, and bake scones for about 15 minutes. When done, they should be golden, fragrant and a perfect match for a hot cup of chai.
Approximate prep time: 30 minutes, but don’t hurry
Approximate cooking time: about 15 minutes
Musical accompaniment: Anything by Django Reinhardt & Stephan Grappelli