Sunday 6 March 2011

Authentic Indian Masala Chai

Watch me making chai from scratch on CTV. 

Do any of you watch The Big Bang Theory? We do, and we are all addicted to the show, even Aditi. She can sing the whole theme song, including the autotrophs drooling and the neanderthals developing tools (The Barenaked Ladies would be so proud!). Anyway, I digress. The reason I brought up the show is because, if you've watched it, you'll know that one of the favourite pastimes of the boys is teasing the staff at the Apple store. Well, one of my favourite things is to tease the wait staff at coffee shops here when they ask me if I want 'chai tea'... I tell them they've just asked me if I want 'tea tea', as the word 'chai' basically just means 'tea' in Hindi (and assorted Indian languages)

Tea. The ultimate comfort drink, anytime day or night. Well beloved of the English and all over the world, including China and India. The variations in the way people drink tea is amazing, each region having their own twists and traditions. The Chinese like it light, the English love their 'builder's tea', the Japanese have an entire ritual around it, and the Indians... well, we love our tea stewed to death with spices and sugary enough that it could be classed as a dessert. Kim at Jhovaan has a really interesting post here on Badawi Shai or Bedouin Tea.

Authentic Indian Masala Chai

I read this article in Maclean's the other day and had a bit of a snigger at it. Tea snobs, for example, or this whole thing of serving masala chai in 'silence'. I get that people don't want to be disturbed by others yakking away on mobiles, but the whole snobbery around masala chai did bring about some snorts of laughter. Laughter, because,

a) India is probably the least quiet of any country in the world and
b) Chai is one of the basic necessities of Indian life, so to be snobbish about it is actually laughable.

Another example from the article '“They” are the growing minority of masala chai snobs. “The demand for better masala chai can be explained by what happened to yoga,” noted Venk Prabhu, owner of Shanti Tea...“People realized that yoga was more than just exercise. They realized, ‘Hey, we’re only doing part of the practice. We want to be purists.’ Same goes for chai.” (Maclean's 2011)

Errrr, what??

The killer line for me was '“We learned that chai is all about having that Zen moment and lingering. Customers acquire a more sophisticated palate and aspire to another level.” (Maclean's 2011)

This is the point I totally lost it, and fell over laughing!! Zen in a cup of chai? Aspiring to a higher level? Of what? I would imagine the chaiwallahs in India would have a really good laugh at that too.

Authentic Indian Masala Chai

Anyway, the article did push me write this post on chai. Now, masala chai, like curry powder has no one recipe. So to claim that my recipe is authentic will be arrogant and erroneous. What I will say though, is that this is a recipe that is perfected by me, and has been enjoyed by my family. Everyone in India (and the world, including Starbucks) will claim that their chai recipe is the best, and it could very well be the truth (don't know about the Starbucks version though!) But the whole point of chai, is that it will always be as individual as the person preparing it.

It could be as easy as throwing some cardamom and ginger into a cup of black tea and swirling in lots of milk and sugar. Or you could, as in the Maclean's article, spend an entire day stirring a pot of chai. Either way, you adapt the recipe to suit your taste and spice cupboard.

I will, however, make the extravagant claim that nothing beats the taste of freshly brewed chai, with those lovely spicy hints, and warm memories of cold winter's days in Delhi, sitting around in dhabas, debating politics :-) Betcha not even that Montreal teashop can top that!

Authentic Indian Masala Chai

(Printable Recipe)

1 tsp whole green cardamoms
1 tsp whole cloves
1 or 2 inch piece of cinnamon
3 - 4 petals of a star anise
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
½ inch piece of ginger, crushed
Around 4 tsp of loose strong black tea (or 2 black teabags)
Boiling water
Milk and sugar to taste


Take the seeds out of the cardamom pods. In a mortar and pestle, crush all the spices coarsely. Don't worry about getting them into a fine powder.

Mix the loose tea (or teabag) and the spices in a teapot. Add the ginger and just boiled water and let it steep for at least 3 - 5 minutes. The tea will be quite strong, so if you prefer a lighter tea without milk, then steep for only 2 minutes.

Strain the tea into mugs or teacups, add milk and sugar to taste, and serve.

Authentic Indian Masala Chai

Authentic Indian Masala Chai


  1. I would love to have this cup of tea, so fragrant and aromatic.

  2. Interesting post. I'd noticed that chai has become rather popular over here. I first had it (indian spiced variety) in Australia about 15 years ago. Your recipe sounds lovely, although I wonder if you actually meant 4 tbsp rather than tsp?

  3. Thanks for picking that up Choclette :-) Yes I did mean tsp, not tbsp. It depends on what tea you're using too. Darker the tea, lesser to use.

    I came across an abomination here in Edmonton - espresso chai... really!! A chai latte with a shot of espresso... I almost keeled over with shock at that :-) Some things need to be left well alone.

  4. Hi,
    Id like to know how many cups of tea can I make from this recipe please.thanks

  5. Aza, 4 small teacups, or 2 big mugs Hope that helps :-)

  6. This looks amazing! As I read it, I wondered: would it be possible to crush the spices beforehand to make a tinned "chai mix" which could be popped into one of those little "tea eggs" for easily-made individual cups?

    1. Yes, absolutely. The fineness of the grind is always a sticking point. I like my mix to be fairly coarse, as I only have seen coarser tea eggs here. But the finer ground the spice, the stronger the flavour, but your tea mesh has to be very fine... I saw a nice fine one in David's Tea the other day, so its possible to find them.

      Granulated tea would also work better for tea eggs, and you can find good prices in Indian/ ethnic groceries, and as its quite strong you wouldn't need more than a couple of teaspoons for an authentic chai.

      I am actually thinking of selling this chai mix soon, along with a few more spice blends so keep an eye on the Get Cooking website :) http://www.getcookingedmonton.com/

  7. Good for you - we need to temper the food elitism and snobbery that have risen and escalated in the past 5 years. It's just food folks - keep it real, accessible & fun. Humour is a good way to do that.

  8. Hey, did **I** write this post? Well, no, because I would have also talked about Kenyan chai. But, I could have. I don't know how many times I have thought, "Chai tea! Why in the world would anyone say, 'Tea tea'? It makes no sense." And, knowing me as my wife and kids do, I'm sure I've actually said it out loud many times. I'm the only one in my family who likes masala chai, so, when I'm the one making chai in the mornings, I make my litre separately from my wife's. I cheat and use a spice mix — it has orange peel which adds a really nice flavour. I will try your recipe, though. As for Starbucks — I only get that when it's the only thing available, like in an airport when I travel.

    Kenyan tea, at least what we can buy in-country, tends to be very finely ground. I like it because it makes a much stronger tea. But, most tea eggs or other strainers don't work because the tea leaves go right through the holes. We've found some very fine-mesh nylon infusers (replacement infuser for Chatsford) from devotea.com or metal (Tee-li brewing basket) from specialtea.com that work really well (I get no commission).

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  10. Thanks so much for this article! I'm not Indian, but I'm laughing with you that masala chai is supposed to be part of a "Zen moment"! I spent two weeks in India with a nonprofit, working with women and orphans. I had masala chai in city restaurants, two airports, and a Mumbai mall, and from street vendors. The best chai I had was in a tiny rural village. It was served by an incredibly kind and generous housewife, on the front steps of her very humble home, with a dozen adults gathered around, kids running and playing, and a street full of chickens and livestock! (The water buffalo didn't get the memo about our Zen moment, apparently...)

    I have been making chai for my husband and I since 1998, but when I came home from India and made it for us the first time, I was so disappointed; it wasn't nearly as good after I had experienced real Indian masala chai. I hit the web and poured over the cookbook I brought home from Mumbai, experimented, and found a good ratio of spices; we have it often now! I do make mine from ground spices, but I mix it up in small batches and store it in an airtight container to keep it fresh. I make sure to buy fresh spices often, since they lose flavor so quickly. (We use loose tea, also, and just strain it.)

    Besides the determination to make better chai, what I really took away from India was an appreciation for hospitality. I often worked with very, very poor people, but they were so kind! Every day someone would invite us into their home, giving us fresh fruit or coconut water or chai or a soft drink. The West needs to sit up and pay attention!

    P.S.: What type of cinnamon do you recommend? I have cassia/cinnamon, which is the typical type here in the US, and Saigon (Vietnamese) cinnamon. I've been using cassia, but I'm more than willing to experiment! :)

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Mirawyn. I am actually in India and enjoying that hospitality, as we speak. I love that I can basically call up someone I haven't seen in almost a decade, and hang out with them, and feel like it was just yesterday.

      I use cassia, as that's what Indians would use. Keep your lovely Saigon cinnamon for exclusive treats, its expensive and harder to come by. I use a sprinkle of it on my coffee sometimes. Saigon also has a stronger flavour, so it would overwhelm the chai.

      Hope this helps, and welcome to my site :)

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  12. Masala Chai seems a bit different from the usual tea we enjoy, it really seems more like a dessert. Good read.

  13. Hello. I love those cups. Did you buy them somewhere or did you just found the pictures on the internet?


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