Homemade Masala Chai


Do I have a delicious masala chai recipe for you.  It’s simple, so simple, in fact, that you’re gonna wonder why you haven’t made it before. Once mastered from scratch, you can forget about chai concentrate or those weird powder mixes. Made fresh, it’s heavenly and fills your house with the delicate scent of warm spices. It’s also fragrances your garbage can for the day, which is an unexpected, but suprisingly wonderful bonus.

So what is chai exactly?

In South Asia, Chai is a generic term referring to any type of tea.  Masala chai is Hindi for literally “spiced tea”. Chai tea, as Americans so often say, is “tea tea”, but we dont’ speak Hindi so that’s just a funny linguistic thing. If you visit India (and you definately should!), you will come to one conclusion very quickly – Indians drink a lot of masala chai. It’s served like the English serve tea: during social calls, consumed at breakfast or after lunch. Also expect it whenever you visit a shopkeeper, that is, every shopkeeper.  They bring it out steaming on little trays, a friendly smile on their faces, and it’s lovely.

Originally an ayurvedic remedy, masala chai is now consumed with the same fervor with which Americans consume coffee. Everyone has their individual recipes and this one is handed down to me by my mother-in-law. She drinks it every morning before the sun rises, sharing it with her cleaning lady, Gulabi. I’ve made a few modifications of my own, but feel free to experiment with a variety of “warm” spices and quantities. Just make sure to add milk, and if you’re inclined, some type of sugar.

Masala Chai Recipe

  • Green Cardamom, about 6-10, crushed on countertop
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks, cracked in half
  • Whole Black Pepper, 2 heaping tbsp
  • Fennel or Anise, 1 heaping tbsp
  • Ginger, fresh, 1 tbsp or so peeled and grated/cut up  (I never grate – it’s a hassle with no great benefit.  Do not use powder!   Also, keeps in the fridge for a few weeks)
  • Whole Cloves, 15 (or one or two large pinches)
  • Nutmeg, a few shakes
  • Earl Grey Tea (or Black Tea Leaves)  – use two tea bags per conventional size sauce pan or if loose, 2 tbsp

Note concerning spice usage:  when in doubt about quantity, use more.  Before you add the Earl Grey Tea, the spice/water mixture should be darkish brown and very concentrated.  Although this chai recipe will taste different from the chai you get at a coffee shop, it should never be bland or watery.

Directions:  Fill sauce pan close to brim with water.  Boil spices without the tea until you get a thick concentrate, ususally 1/3 to 1/2 reduced.  You want the cinnamon sticks and cardamom to open.  Take off heat.  Steep Earl Grey tea or black tea in spice concentrate for a few minutes.  About using Earl Grey: I prefer the slight undertone of bergamot and also find that Earl Grey has a less astringent taste than other black teas.  It give the masala chai a smoother finish instead of overpowering the spice with a slightly bitter aftertaste.  Note: do not cheat and use powdered versions of the spices.  The only exception is nutmeg, if you don’t have the time nor inclination to grate it.

Add milk and sugar and enjoy!  Depending on how much milk you prefer, the chai should be a cappucinno type color or lighter, like this.

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