Bandrek Is The Spiced Indonesian Drink That Gives Tea A Run For Its Money

Whether you feel stricken by a cold or it's simply chilly outside, few beverages hit the mark quite like a steaming hot mug of tea. Although simply steeped in hot water, such drinks can be wondrously aromatic and come in a wide variety of comforting flavors. On the island of Java in Indonesia, a spiced drink called bandrek epitomizes tea's encompassing nature without the actual tea leaves. Crafted with up to a dozen ingredients, including ginger, spices, aromatic herbs, and palm sugar, the steeped beverage is bursting with flavor. Part spicy yet sweet, it's a rejuvenating sip that activates the senses.

Bandrek is held in high esteem for its medicinal benefits, as it is believed to help reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. Although the exact effects haven't been medically studied, its inclusion of antioxidant-packed lemongrass and ginger certainly doesn't diminish such prospects. Let's dive into the background of how this invigorating beverage came about.

Background of bandrek

The Sundanese people of West Java were the first to craft this hot, spiced beverage. In this region of Indonesia, the landscape is at a higher elevation with fertile volcanic soil. Amidst the jungle, there are a plethora of tea and spice plantations, and in the highlands, the climate is cooler. All of these factors contribute to a vibrant culture that appreciates beverages that warm you up.

Due to the lack of tea leaves contained in the brew, bandrek is more akin to masala chai, another spiced drink perfect for staying warm on chilly evenings. In fact, bandrek is most commonly enjoyed at night and during the rainy season when temperatures are lower. Bandrek was especially popular in the early days of the spice trade. After these flavorings lost some of their economic value, the drink became less popular, although not to the point of extinction. Today, it's still enjoyed across Asia, with many varying renditions.

Ingredients and preparation of bandrek

Bandrek does not have a set recipe. The most stalwart inclusion is ginger — both for its earthy, spicy flavor and immune-boosting qualities. It's usually combined with aromatic herb-flavored components like lemongrass and pandan leaf. And when it comes to spices, frequent additions include cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and a rotating selection of star anise, coriander, black peppercorns, and even chili peppers. Although heavily spiced, bandrek has a sweet backbone, too. Such a note is usually accomplished through palm sugar, which is further flavored by coconut flakes, coconut milk, and sometimes condensed milk.

Preparation starts by pounding the spices in a mortar and pestle, and peeling, then cutting the aromatic roots. These components then go into a simmering pot of water, in which they're boiled for around 10 minutes. After the flavors have time to mesh, the palm sugar is stirred in until dissolved. The drink is ready to serve once poured through a sieve into a glass. Some like to mix in one last spoonful of condensed or coconut milk.

In addition to variances in spices and their prepared ratios, other versions of bandrek also include fruit. One iteration incorporates durian, and others add coconut flesh to create a thicker, more smoothie-like consistency. Regardless of the exact ingredients, one characteristic is certain; the beverage is delicious.