If you were to take a cursory glance at my spice cabinet right now, you'd find a fairly disorganized melange of spices that probably need to be replaced sometime soon. Many of my spices are reaching the end of their usable shelf life, so my newest obsession is replacing all of my ground spices with their whole counterparts and grinding my own as I need them. It's not as time consuming as it sounds, and home ground spices pack a lot more flavor than their pre-ground counterparts. Don't believe me? Take a cinnamon stick and put it through an electric coffee grinder (preferably a metal one, so it doesn't absorb flavors and pass them on to whatever you grind next) and then smell your freshly ground cinnamon next to that powdered cinnamon you bought in bulk two years ago. See? No comparison.
Grinding aside, whole spices can be used in several different ways, most of which replace our favorite drink mixes. I've seen everything from instant coffee with cardamom to instant hot cocoa with anise... but really, how hard is it to make your own cocoa and pop a couple of anise stars in it? Are we really THAT pressed for time, or have we just gotten so used to having everything pre-made that we don't stop to think about how easy it might be to do it ourselves?
At the moment, my favorite application of whole spices is chai tea. I love its versatility and how you can omit several spices, add different spices, and have fun with it until you find something that's perfect for you. Many people use a strong black tea, but I prefer a lighter jasmine tea- it gives the spices more room to shine- and I like to drink mine cold (though it is still quite good hot). I absolutely love the clove/cardamom/anise flavors, but I've added fennel with good results, and if I plan to drink it hot, I'll add a thick strip of orange zest to perk things up a bit.
2. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods (make sure you get all the little center seeds, that’s the real flavor), peppercorns, anise stars, ginger, and tea to the water. Boil on high for 12 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the orange peel, sugar, and milk. Continue to cook for about 3 minutes more, being careful not to let the milk boil over.
3. Strain into mugs or into a small pitcher. Can be enjoyed hot or cold.