Masala chai is the beverage from the Indian
subcontinent made by brewing tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian
spices and herbs. As with much of Indian cuisine, the exact mix of dry
spices varies greatly and is often handed down in families from one
generation to the next.
Left: A cup of
By itself, chai is merely the generic word for tea in Hindi, Punjabi and
many other languages around the world, and was adopted into British slang as
"cha" or "char". However, for many English speakers who refer to ordinary tea as
"tea", the word "chai" is a relatively recent addition to their vocabulary and
automatically implies "masala chai."
The simplest traditional method of preparing masala chai is
to actively simmer or boil a mixture of milk and water with loose leaf tea,
sweeteners, and whole spices. Indian markets all over the world sell various
brands of "chai masala," for this purpose, though many households blend their
own. The solid tea and spice residues are strained off from masala chai before
The method may vary according to taste or local custom: for example, some
households may combine all of the ingredients together at the start, bring the
mixture to a boil, then immediately strain and serve; others may leave the
mixture simmering for a longer amount of time, or begin by bringing the tea
leaves to a boil and only add the spices toward the end (or vice-versa).
There is no fixed recipe or preparation method for masala
chai and many families have their own versions of the tea. Because of the large
range of possible variations, masala chai can be considered a class of tea
rather than a specific kind. However, all masala chai has the following four
Left: A boy in
Mysore, India preparing masala chai.
Tea. The base tea is usually a strong black tea such as Assam, so that
the spices and sweeteners do not overpower it. However, a wide variety of teas
are used to make chai. Most chai in India is brewed with strong black tea, but
Kashmiri chai is brewed with gunpowder tea.
Sweetener. Plain white sugar is sufficient, although
individual tastes may favour the caramelised notes from Demarara, other brown
sugars, palm or coconut sugars, or the more complex slight acidity of honey. A
surprisingly large quantity of sugar may be required to bring out the flavour of
the spices; one recipe uses three tablespoons of sugar in 3 1/2 cups of chai.
Condensed milk can also be added as a dual-purpose sweetener and dairy addition.
Milk. Usually, whole milk is used for its richness. Generally, masala
chai is made by mixing 1/4 to 1/2 parts milk with water and heating the liquid
to near-boiling or even full boiling. As previously mentioned, some people like
to use condensed milk in their masala chai to double as the sweetener.
Spices. The traditional masala chai is a bracing, strongly spiced
beverage brewed with so-called "warm" spices. Most masala chai incorporates one
or more of the following: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, peppercorn,
Traditionally, cardamom is a dominant note, supplemented by other spices such as
cloves, ginger, or black pepper; the latter two add a pleasantly piquant
flavour. In India, fresh ginger is often used.
The Kashmiri version of chai is brewed with green tea instead of black tea and
has a more subtle blend of flavorings: almonds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and
Other possible ingredients include nutmeg, rose flavouring (where rose petals
are boiled along with the loose-leaf tea), or liquorice root.
The recipe below explains how to make masala chai:
Masala Mixture Ingredients
- 100 grams powdered ginger
- 25 grams cloves
- 100 grams whole black
- 60 grams cinnamon, broken
small, or 40 grams ground
- 1/2 nutmeg, crushed
- 35 grams green cardamom
Masala Mixture Preparation
Combine all of the spices and blend
well in an electric grinder. You only need a small
quantity for each cup of chai; store the rest for later.
A full recipe will keep you stocked full of chai for
- 1/2 cup
- 1 1/2
tea leaves - to
a strong Indian
tea such as an
Assam is best.
- pinch of
- 1/2 cup
Boil water and
Add sugar, tea
leaves and masala until the mixture
becomes dark (about 5-10 minutes).
The longer you
boil, the stronger the chai.
teacups to serve.
Let the remaining
solids cool and
sprinkle them on
your plants for an
Tea masala or garam
masala from a store
can be used to get
around the masala
spices lose their
flavor over time.
In step one, boil
the water and milk
separately, and in
step two add the tea
leaves and masala to
the boiling water,
boiling until the
tea is as strong as
you like. Only then
add the milk to the
mix. This can speed
up the process
the flavor. This
method is often used
by restaurants to
serve chai in large
as orders are taken.
Optionally turn off
the heat in the end,
cover and let sit
for about five
minutes for a richer
Try adjusting the
ratio of milk to
water. For a richer
milky tea, try two
parts milk to one
Leave out the sugar
for a more adult
flavor. Sugar can be
added while drinking
if so desired.
South Asian spices.
Each region in which
chai is commonly
available has its
own popular or
mix. One optional
addition to masala
chai is fennel
Add one leaf of
Indian Green Tea
(called Lili Cha
in local language),
while the water is
milk). This gives a
nice flavor to the