Indian Masala Chai

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Get this authentic recipe for Masala Chai – a popular beverage from India! This fragrant, comforting, spiced tea is also the inspiration behind the chai tea craze in the US. Learn how to make it home in less than 15 minutes!

A small glass of masala chai.
Authentic Masala Chai

As with many Americans and their cup of coffee, Indians greatly treasure their tea breaks – whether it be morning or afternoon – as a way to recharge and relax for a moment before taking care of the tasks of the day.

Like most Indians, I can’t start my day without a cup of hot tea along with my breakfast. When I feel sleepy in the afternoon, there is nothing more refreshing than tea with some Parle-G or Marie biscuits.

Though I usually have ginger tea (or adrakwali chai), masala chai is what I go for when I have a little more time on my hands. With a blend of spices that are perfectly balanced with sweetness, pungency, and heat, I get nostalgic every time I take a single sip.

The spices that are used to make this spiced milk tea can vary between households depending on which region in India they came from. Scroll down below to check out how you can give masala chai your own spin.

What is masala chai? What does it taste like?

Masala chai is a beverage made popular by Indian Chaiwallahs (tea vendors), who crafted a delicious drink made from black tea, fragrant spices, and whole milk.

It tastes like a milky, spiced tea that is flavored with ginger, cardamom, cloves, fennel, small amounts of cinnamon, and black peppercorns.

History

Masala chai (pronounced muh·saa·luh chai) began as an ayurvedic drink, dating back over 500 years. The original beverage contained a blend of aromatic spices and was actually free from tea leaves and caffeine. It was often used as a medicinal beverage. It wasn’t until the British colonization of India that black tea leaves were added, and finally, milk was added in the 1900s.

During colonization, the British-run “Indian Tea Association” made tea breaks mandatory for Indians to market tea to a larger audience. As a result, chaiwallahs started popping up everywhere to serve Indians their daily cup.

To mask the low-quality tea that was being produced by inexperienced growers, the vendors began adding spices and milk, creating what we now refer to as Masala chai.

Chaiwallahs only grew in popularity over time, and they became a frequent stopping place for weary travelers and workers to grab a cup of delicious, fragrant, and refreshing masala chai. Now it is such a popular beverage that every Indian household has its own recipe, and there is a great variation in flavor depending on the region.

While Indian Masala chai is most often referred to as “masala chai,” you may also hear it called masala tea or spiced milk tea.

Why chai tea makes no sense

As an Indian, I was very confused when I first noticed chai tea on menus in the cafes here in the US. You see, in Hindi, the word “chai” means tea. I was like…what!?! It is like saying “tea tea.” You can imagine that seemed very silly to me!

Chai Tea vs. Masala chai

American chai does not share much in common with Indian Masala chai. Although the American version of “masala chai tea” was inspired by the spices featured in the Indian original, the beverage became saturated with cinnamon and is very sweet in flavor.

The American version was made popular by Oprah and her Teavana partnership with Starbucks. While the Starbucks chai tea may be delicious to some, it is not comparable to the refreshing and fragrant Masala tea that I grew up with.

A hand grabbing a small glass of masala chai.
Masala Tea

How to choose tea for Indian chai

In addition to chai tea spices, you will need good quality black tea to make masala chai at home.

Types of tea

  • Assam tea is India’s most popular and widely grown tea. It can be grown year-round in lowlands and has the largest growing area of all of the regional teas. It’s dark brown in color with a strong, earthy, and nutty taste. It is most often included in blends such as English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast.
  • Darjeeling tea – This tea only has 4 growing and harvest periods and is grown on the foothills of the Himalayas. It is a highly desired tea, but since it has a much smaller supply than Assam tea, it is more expensive to purchase. They have a lighter and more delicate flavor compared to Assam tea.
  • Nilgiri tea – This is a lesser-known tea and is milder than Assam but stronger than Darjeeling tea. It is only grown in a small mountainous region in the southwest part of India. It is bold and slightly fruity in flavor.

I use Taj Mahal tea, a blend of Assam and Darjeeling tea. You can use tea in leaf form, powdered or dust form, or as tea bags.

Here’s what you need to make the recipe

Ingredient notes/swaps

  • Tea – Any loose-leaf tea, such as Taj Mahal or Wagh Bakhri, will do. You can also use tea bags.
  • Chai tea spices – Every household has its own unique blend of spices to include in its masala chai. A few of the most common are listed below, but you do not need to be limited by them.
  • Green cardamom – This adds sweetness and is a fragrant addition that makes for a delicious masala tea.
  • Cinnamon stick – An aromatic spice that adds a warming and comforting flavor.
  • Fennel seeds – A common addition that offers additional sweetness and adds a cooling element to the tea.
  • Cloves – This pungent spice is a common and traditional addition to masala chai.
  • Pepper – Just a few whole peppercorns add heat and spiciness.
The ingredients and spices needed to make masala chai.
Masala chai ingredients

Tools

Here’s what you need –

  • Saucepan – A good, heavy-bottomed saucepan is recommended to avoid scorching the spiced milk tea.
  • Mortar and pestle – For crushing the spices into a fine powder.
  • Strainer – The mixture is poured through a strainer to remove any bits of spices from the finished masala chai.
  • Teacups – For serving your spiced milk tea. Finish with a pinch of saffron if desired.

TIPS

  • Use full-fat milk or whole milk for the best results.
  • The tea may differ in taste and strength depending on the brand used. Increase or decrease the quantity of tea leaves as needed.
  • Chai ratio – I prefer a 1:1 milk-to-water ratio, but you could use 1:2 as well, where you use two times more water than milk.
  • You can lightly toast the spices on low heat for 15-20 seconds to draw out the moisture making it easy to crush.
  • To avoid the bitter aftertaste, always add the ground chai masala after the milk has been added and has come to a boil.
  • Also, you must be mindful of how long you boil the tea leaves. If it is overboiled, the tea will be bitter, and if not boiled enough, it will not be strong enough or have a dark color.

Variations to try

  • Sweetener options: You can use jaggery, brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey will also work. Make sure to add jaggery just before serving, or else the milk will curdle.
  • For a vegan version, use oat milk.
  • Herbs: You can add fresh mint leaves and holy basil (tulsi) while making tea or add the crushed dried-up version to the masala powder. Some even add lemongrass to their tea – though I haven’t tried it.
  • Love spices? You can experiment by adding nutmeg (just a pinch), mace, or star anise. Remember, when it comes to spices, less is more.
  • Amp up the fragrance – Make your masala tea even more fragrant by adding a few strands of saffron or rose petals.

SERVE IT WITH

While Parle G biscuits and rusk are popular teatime accompaniments, here’s a list of other dishes that you can serve with your masala chai

Two cups of masala chai.
Spiced milk tea (chai tea)

Prep ahead and storage tips

Tea is always best made fresh. You can refrigerate masala tea for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. You can reheat the tea in a microwave-safe cup.

For the best storage, keep the tea covered in the fridge until you are ready to reheat the tea.

How to aerate/pull chai

Double boil method: Once the milk and spices have been added, bring the mixture up to a boil. Once it is boiling rapidly, remove the saucepan from the heat until it calms and shrinks back. Then add back to the heat and bring to a second boil. Boil for about 30 seconds before removing from the heat.

Ladle method: This is the method used by chaiwallahs (chai vendors). It involves using a large scoop or ladle to gently scoop the spiced milk tea and pour it back into the vessel. Repeating this many times adds bubbles to the fragrant tea and creates a frothy and authentic cup of masala chai.

Pink circle with light bulb

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between chai and masala chai?

The word “chai” actually means tea. In the American context, it refers to tea made with spices, but in India, it just means tea. Masala chai means spiced milk tea that includes black pepper, fennel, cloves, a small amount of cinnamon, and often cardamom.

Is masala chai good for health? 

Masala chai is a delicious beverage that is filled with many aromatic spices, many of which contain their own health benefits. Masala chai contains spices that aid with inflammation, digestion, immunity, and many other ailments. It can be a delicious addition to a healthy diet.

Can I drink masala tea every day?

If you want to drink masala tea daily, you can do that. It is below the recommended daily caffeine intake and can be sweetened as much (or as little) as you like. It can be a healthier alternative to the average cup of coffee.

What does it mean to pull tea?

To pull tea means to aerate it, giving it a bubbly and frothy appearance. This is done by using a double boil method or a ladle to “pull” the tea up and pour it back into the pot, creating bubbles in the process.

What is my tea bitter?

Either you used more tea leaves than required and/or you overboiled the tea.

How to avoid tea from curdling?

Tea often curdles when you add fresh ginger and don’t boil it enough. When using ginger, make sure to boil ginger and water before adding milk to prevent curdling.

Other Indian beverages to try

  • Turmeric milk – Packed with antioxidants, this calming haldi doodh makes the perfect beverage to end your day.
  • Ginger tea – With its bold flavor and simmering warmth, ginger tea is an alluring drink any time of the day.
  • Mango lassi – A refreshing yogurt drink that serves as a soothing accompaniment to spicy Indian meals.
  • Sweet lassi – A yogurt-based drink that is a perfect refreshment for hot summer days.
  • Thandai – Made with a flavorful mixture of nuts, seeds, and spices, this refreshing drink is absolutely irresistible.

Masala Chai Recipe

A small glass of masala chai.

Easy Masala Chai Recipe

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This authentic recipe for Masala Chai is just like the popular beverage you grew up with in India! Easy to make, fragrant, and comforting.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 13 minutes
Servings: 2
Diet : Gluten-free
Course : Beverages
Method: Stovetop
Cuisine : Indian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup water, [see note]
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1- inch piece ginger, crushed
  • 4 teaspoons tea leaves
  • 4-6 teaspoons sugar

Spices

Serve with

  • A pinch of saffron, optional

Instructions
 

  • Boil water along with ginger over medium heat.
  • As the water boils, crush the spices into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Set it aside.
  • Once the water comes to boil, add tea leaves and sugar. Let the tea leaves steep in the water for about 1-2 minutes.
  • Add milk to the tea mixture and let it come to a boil.
  • Add the powdered spices and mix well. Turn off the heat in about 30 seconds.
  • Strain and serve immediately with a pinch of saffron (if using).

Notes

Use your serving cup to measure the water and milk to have the exact amount of tea to serve.

Tips

  • Use full-fat milk or whole milk for the best results.
  • The tea may differ in taste and strength depending on the brand used. Increase or decrease the quantity of tea leaves as needed.
  • Chai ratio – I prefer a 1:1 milk-to-water ratio, but you could use 1:2 as well, where you use two times more water than milk.
  • You can lightly toast the spices on low heat for 15-20 seconds to draw out the moisture making it easy to crush.
  • To avoid the bitter aftertaste, always add the ground chai masala after the milk has been added and has come to a boil.
  • Also, you must be mindful of how long you boil the tea leaves. If it is overboiled, the tea will be bitter, and if not boiled enough, it will not be strong enough or have a dark color.

Variations to try

  • Sweetener options: You can use jaggery, brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey will also work. Make sure to add jaggery just before serving, or else the milk will curdle.
  • For a vegan version, use oat milk.
  • Herbs: You can add fresh mint leaves and holy basil (tulsi) while making tea or add the crushed dried-up version to the masala powder. Some even add lemongrass to their tea – though I haven’t tried it.
  • Love spices? You can experiment by adding nutmeg (just a pinch), mace, or star anise. Remember, when it comes to spices, less is more.
  • Amp up the fragrance – Make your masala tea even more fragrant by adding a few strands of saffron or rose petals.

Pantry EssentialsGetting the right tools for your kitchen makes cooking more enjoyable and less frustrating. Here’s a list of kitchen essentials I own and recommend.

Disclosure: This recipe contains affiliate links to products we love and recommend. As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition

Calories: 122kcalCarbohydrates: 17gProtein: 5gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.2gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 55mgPotassium: 254mgFiber: 2gSugar: 14gVitamin A: 201IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 184mgIron: 1mg

Disclaimer: Approximate Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and can vary depending on the exact ingredients/brands used. If you have health issues, please work with a registered dietician or nutritionist.

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Keyword : Street food

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