Food

The Best Masala Chai

As the weather gets cooler, and the days get shorter, blogger Pooja Makhijani recommends mixing up a steaming pot of masala chai. Here’s her family recipe (so much better than the Starbucks version!)…

The Best Masala Chai You’ll Ever Have
By Pooja Makhijani of Notabilia

Masala chai, a creamy, soothing South Asian beverage, combines black tea, spices, sugar and milk. Masala is a generic term for “a mixture of spices,” and chai is a generic term for “tea.” (Yes, “chai tea” is redundant—the phrase drives me bonkers!)

Chai is ubiquitous on the Indian subcontinent and in homes across the diaspora. An offering of tea is a sign of welcome and generosity. Every person who visited my childhood home was greeted with a cup of warm, milky, spicy tea.

Many American coffee bars list chai on their menus, but their concoctions tend to be overpriced and under-spiced. And the tea bags, pre-ground spice mixtures, and concentrates found on supermarket shelves are woefully bland. A proper masala chai made is made with loose tea and whole spices, resulting in a pungent and rich brew.

The spices that make up a traditional masala chai usually include some combination of cardamom, ginger, clove, black pepper and cinnamon. However, a cup of masala chai can be made to suit personal taste and preferences. My mother, for example, prefers cloves; my father would rather have fennel seeds. I’ve even known home cooks to empty their entire spice cabinet into their masala chai: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, threads of saffron, bay leaves, white peppercorns, even salt!

I encourage you to experiment with my simple recipe and adjust the ratio of spices or use a different sweetener (honey, jaggery, palm sugar) to emphasize the qualities you like best in your masala chai.

Recipe: Masala Chai
Serves 4

You’ll need:
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 cup whole milk
2 tbsp. demerara sugar, to taste
2 tbsp. loose black tea, preferably a malty Assam

What to do:

In a small saucepan, bring water, ginger, pepper, cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon to a boil. Add the milk and sugar to the pan and bring to a boil once again.

Remove pan from heat and add the loose black tea. Cover and let steep for at least 3 minutes (or longer, if you prefer a stronger brew). Strain the mixture into a warmed teapot or directly into teacups—or stainless steel tumblers, as the tea is traditionally served.


Thank you, Pooja!

P.S. More best recipes, including coffee cake and hot chocolate with a secret ingredient.

(Photos and recipe by Pooja Makhijani of Notabilia. Thanks to Shoko for helping with this series.)

  1. Oh my! This blogger has such an elegant and beautiful way of writing

  2. love it :) Great chai recipe – I’ll try that for sure! thank you

  3. Hey thank you so much for this recipee, was actually looking for this

  4. Wondering if anyone has a resource for stainless steel tumblers as shown in the photo. Thanks!!

  5. Asia’s biggest awards honoring Food & Beverage and Hospitality In India. COMING SOON….

    If you wish to nominate yourself, kindly send us your full contact details, and we shall get back to you shortly..

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  6. Asia’s biggest awards honoring Food & Beverage and Hospitality In India. COMING SOON….

    If you wish to nominate yourself, kindly send us your full contact details, and we shall get back to you shortly..

    Check out our website:- http://www.globalsummits.co/lemonNice/

  7. I LOVE “overpriced and under-spiced.” perfectly stated :)

  8. This sounds so delicious. I have always loved chai and eschewed the starbucks version-after being in the UK with REAL tea, it’s hard to like starbucks..

  9. Such a pretty picture and yummy, yummy, I would like to taste that tea!!

  10. This sounds delicious (much more delicious than Starbucks!) As a Starbucks veteran, I do have one tip for ordering chai at a coffee shop: if you like it spicier, ask for less milk. Milk mellows out the spice – so if you like it sweeter, ask for light water!

  11. okay so i made this but i didn’t have loose tea so i used Irish breakfast tea and i didn’t have whole cinnamon or cardamon soo long story short.. it’s delicious :)

  12. I am totally making this recipe. I love chai!! Thanks for sharing.

  13. looks delicious, and the photos are beautiful!

  14. Im so happy you poster this ! That’s exactly what I needed today, a good spice chai tea to enjoy cool autumn nights :)

  15. Im so happy you poster this ! That’s exactly what I needed today, a good spice chai tea to enjoy cool autumn nights :)

  16. Yum! How long can it keep?

    • You must drink it hot and immediately! No one “keeps” masala chai.

    • Will do! Thanks!

  17. I’m always searching for the best masala chai at Indian restaurants in New York, now I’ll just make my own!

  18. K says...

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Oooh that sounds awesome! I love real chai and will have to try this soon now that it’s so chilly outside.

    KK

  20. Sounds prefect for a cool, crisp fall day. And I love the photos too!

  21. My dad grew up in India (from a baby through highschool) and so my family has grown up with a love of Indian food and the tradition of making our own Chai. The recipe I use is slightly different from my mom’s because she makes it without cinnamon (my dad doesn’t like it) and I love ginger-y Chai, so I add extra ginger. :)

    I’ve NEVER bought Starbucks chai or any kind of store-bought chai mixes on principle. Because I know how to make it myself, and I know it will never measure up to the real thing.

    Here’s my recipe for Chai:
    http://chocolate-coveredlove.blogspot.com/2013/01/homemade-masala-chai.html

  22. I cannot wait to try this! Chai lattes from Starbucks are decent, but I am positive I will be replacing them with this!

  23. I cannot wait to try this! Chai lattes from Starbucks are decent, but I am positive I will be replacing them with this!

  24. Sounds so delicious!… and the name is also a bit funny to me, I hadn’t looked it up before: I’m Romanian and we call tea “ceai”, read pretty identically to “chai”…so I guess we got the closer word for the original :)

  25. J says...

    boyfriend and i are both from india and he makes his own chai every day (lattes for me). you inspired me to make this as soon as i got out of bed this morning, and we both loved it! thanks for the inspiration :)

  26. Oh my! This blogger has such an elegant and beautiful way of writing. Will definitely check out her blog.

  27. K says...

    This looks great but despite being Indian and living 35 years of life in India (Gujarat , where masala chai originates from) could never come to like masala chai. There some regions in India that are chai prudes..tea leaf, milk sugar water and thats it. But i could drink it if you serve in the kettle above :).

  28. I’m so in love with the teapot! Where did you find it?!

    • It’s an antique. It belonged to my maternal grandmother’s maternal uncle, if I remember correctly!

  29. When I was living in India, I love, Loved, LOVED the masala chai! I’ve never been able to duplicate it here in the States and agree – Starbucks is overpriced and under-spiced. I can’t wait to try this recipe! Thank you!

  30. That sounds delicious!!!

    We’re vegans these days, so I’m wondering whether a soja version of this might work (and taste good) as well?

    Love from Germany,

    Birdy and Bambi

    http://lasagnolove.blogspot.de/

    • Hi Sarah – I do drink and enjoy cow milk, but I much prefer my chai with soy. Something about the nuttiness really complements the spices. Soy and honey – completely delicious.

    • Same as the above have mentioned: I PREFER my chai with vanilla soymilk. In fact, the first time I had it with real dairy, I thought something was wrong.