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I make chai concentrate by:

  1. Quickly boiling ginger puree twice (each time for about 20-30 minutes).
  2. Boiling the spices (bruised/coarse-ground) for about an hour, removing the liquid, then repeating with fresh water several times.
  3. Concentrating the result of the spice steeping by simmering it uncovered for several hours.
  4. Brewing the tea seperately (two steepings of no more than 5 minutes, allowing the leaves to rest in between infusions).

To clarify exactly what I'm asking:

Could I add grain alcohol (Everclear, etc) to the spices during the last steeping to pull more flavor out of the spices after they have already been infused with water several times; or would it make more sense to just do a separate alcohol extraction, then add it back to the finished product?

I've read that much of the flavor in spices cannot be extracted with water, and must be extracted using a stronger solvent. I don't want to just drop alcohol extractions into my water and call it chai though, so I thought it might work as a final step to squeeze the last of the flavor from the spices.

It seems that I never get as much flavor as traditional brewers who use milk at the beginning (likely due to enzymes in the milk was my assumption) so I thought I could science a way to do the same without adding the milk to the equation since milk is obviously not stable enough to store for long periods of time

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    The milk fats are probably what are sopping up the spices; alcohol also does this, though has an evaporation problem, so I'm not sure how effective it would be. ("On Food and Cooking" I do not recall saying anything about long-term spice use with alcohol.) – thrig Oct 14 '15 at 15:23
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Your flavors can be grouped in water soluble and oil soluble. Alcohol now is a mixture - some oil soluble flavors are also soluble in alcohol. These are phenylpropanoids, like Coumarin or all flavors that are themselves based on alcohol, like Hexanol. Alcohol is not a better extractor for flavors, just one with shared properties of water and oil, without covering the whole range!

Now we get to the core of your question:

Those flavors, that are dissolved in alcohol/oil, are much more stable in alcohol/oil than in water. What you smell during brewing are actually oil soluble flavors that went: "I'd rather dissolve in air than water." When you use boiling water, you are losing flavor that could have been extracted with alcohol.

In order to pull most flavors out of the ingredients, you should therefore first extract most flavors with alcohol and then use boiling water. Also, there is no reason to not use fat/oil, too. While milk is unstable, fat itself is very, very stable. If you ever get one of those Asian cup noodles, you will notice that there is a small packet with fat inside together with dried spices. The fat is not there to increase the nutritional value, but contains the oil soluble flavors.

  • Capitol response (again). How then could I manage to extract these flavors into the concentrate? (The fat soluble flavors.) I've done a bit of reading on the topic & it seems that (traditionally) beverage makers used emulsifiers to accomplish it, but the most widely used one (glycerol ester of wood rosin) is under fire from people who believe it to have health risks. This problem has become something of an obsession with me recently, but I have no experience with beverages, only with foods really (so I haven't had to solve these sorts of conundrums). – AVLien Nov 9 '15 at 3:55
  • @AVLien I think there is a level of perfection that you can only reach by a lot of experimentation or professional education. You might want to check out literature about cocktails, too, for example the bacon-infused bourbon. – John Hammond Nov 15 '15 at 15:54
  • You are right to point out the bourbon. I have stumbled across that in several forums. I have also found some useful information in the beer brewing forums. It seems that I am getting a more complete flavor by (as you suggested) boiling the spices, then extracting the remaining flavor using alcohol. Another point I came to realize after my initial failures was that the flavors would remain dissolved in the water up to a specific temperature, then they boiled off. Going to try some "cold brew" experiments soon. Will keep you posted (if you are interested). – AVLien Nov 27 '15 at 3:49
  • @AVLien When you have figured out the best method for you, you should add it as new answer. – John Hammond Nov 27 '15 at 12:37

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