Hot and spicy — perfect for chilly winter afternoons — are the pungently-scented tea creations from Malabar Trading Company. The Santa Cruz-based company specializes in malabar1.jpgexotic tea blends and kits, such as the handsomely packaged “Traditional Malabar Chai.” Armed with step by step instructions from Malabar’s founding culinary guide, Annaliese Keller (who gave us many delicious dining experiences at her Café Emmanuelle in days gone by), I simmered the blend of black pepper, cardomom, cloves and ginger (probably others too) in milk, and then added teaspoons of Assam black tea. Simmered a bit longer and then enjoyed the sort of sensory experience that the goddess Kali probably savors before taking on the souls of those with questionable karma.

Annaliese tells me that her chais, as well as other teas and tisanes, are available at the Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College on Saturdays. “I also do a brisk internet business,” she says, pointing to the downloadable catalog on the website.

Special for the holidays, Malabar Trading Company has packaged a unique blend of mulling spices and vanilla bean — sounds like a very old-fashioned idea to add to wine or apple cider. Can you say “wassail? The chai sets run around $8 and make 32 servings. Aromatic stocking stuffer from a homegrown culinary artisan.