Yearning for a soothing cup of joy? Masala Chai is a creamy, aromatic and flavorful traditional drink that may bring a smile to every tea lover’s face. Learn what is masala chai and how to make it at home.
What is Masala Chai?
Masala Chai is an Indian milk tea with spices. Chai literally means tea, and the word masala translates into “spice mix”. Regular chai is made only with milk and sugar, but masala chai will contain spices too. The spice mix may differ from recipe to recipe, but it will usually always contain cardamom. Other spices used for making masala chai are ginger, cloves, star anise, aniseed, black peppercorn, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, fennel seeds and others.
Chai Masala is not just a regular milk tea. You cannot make it by simply pouring hot water over tea leaves and some spices and adding sugar and milk. That would give you a cup of tea with milk, but not the real milk tea. Milk tea will contain a lot of milk, much more than just a splash or a dash.
The origin of chai masala tea is in India. Although it’s an important traditional drink, it doesn’t have a long history. Tea cultivation in India started about 200 years ago. While there’s no exact date when the first chai appeared, it became popular about 100 years ago. Since then, chai stayed one of the most important cultural and social drinks.
However, the history of spice blends is much longer. It originates in Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicine that first appeared about 5000 years ago. Chai is made and sold by tea vendors called chaiwalas. It’s served in small cups called kulhars, traditionally made of clay.
Although masala chai is a spiced tea, the traditional tea is not heavily spiced. If you are making masala chai at home, try making a regular chai first – without spices. Then build up your recipe by adding ingredients such as ginger, cardamom, star anise and cinnamon stick.
Masala chai should be a perfectly balanced drink, where none of the ingredients should dominate. That’s why the quality and ratios of the ingredients you choose will be very important.
Potential Health Benefits
Chai Masala is not just a spicy tea. With its roots in Ayurvedic medicine, this tea may provide more benefits than just a regular black tea with milk. To maximize the potential benefits, always choose fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Masala chai may provide energy boost, antioxidant activity, anticancer activity, anti inflammatory activity, aid in weight loss and help lower cholesterol and help relieve stomach pain and aid digestion. Find out what are the top 10 health benefits of chai tea here.
This tea is usually high in caffeine because it’s made with broken Assam tea leaves. They are likely to contain more caffeine than many other black tea types. Besides, it’s prepared by simmering tea leaves over low fire for more than 3 minutes. Expect a higher caffeine content than in a cup of regular black tea. However, the final caffeine content will depend on many factors – the tea leaves you are using, tea-leaf vs spice ratio, the cups you use for serving, etc.
It’s possible to make a caffeine free masala chai too. Choose decaf Assam tea leaves and follow your usual recipe.
How to Make Masala Chai Tea
Making masala chai at home is not difficult, but it will take a bit more time than making a cup of tea with milk. You will need spices, either a pre-made blend or individual ingredients to create your own combination of spices, black tea leaves, sugar, milk and water. Kitchen utensils that you will need are a small saucepan, a fine mesh stainless steel strainer, a spoon and a mug.
Chai is made by simmering tea leaves together with spices in a saucepan over heat. A good ratio of water to milk is 50:50. You will need about one spoon of tea leaves per cup of water and one cup of milk per cup of water. Always use freshly ground chai spices. You can ground them using pestle and mortar or an electric spice grinder. If you are using ginger, grate fresh ginger instead of using ginger powder.
Although chai us almost always made with milk, you may use condensed milk too. Chai is a pulled tea, and it will always be poured from a height. You don’t need to do that at home. Don’t froth the milk either. Although chai is sometimes called chai latte, these two drinks are essentially different. Latte is made with steamed milk. For chai, you will only need to bring milk to a boil and simmer it.
The simplest way of making chai tea
- Add 1 cup of water to a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat.
- Use freshly ground spices – a mix of 2-3 cardamom pods, a few black peppercorns and 2-3 cloves.
- Add them to your saucepan.
- Now add 1 tablespoon of small crushed black tea leaves or 2 tablespoons of bigger leaves and let it simmer for a minute or two.
- Add 1 cup of milk and bring it to a boil.
- Reduce heat and let it simmer for another 5 minutes while stirring occasionally.
- Add sugar and stir.
- Remove from the heat and strain into two cups.
Find out what are the other methods of making chai tea here.
For making the best cup of masala chai, always choose your ingredients carefully. While you can rarely go wrong with choosing spices for your spice mix, always choose quality over quantity. Use fresh spices only, and don’t add too much, even though it may look tempting. Ground your spices using pestle and mortar right before brewing.
The best type of black tea for making masala chai is Assam tea. Choose teas with smaller broken leaves rather than full leaf tea, because they will infuse into a richer, full-bodied tea. CTC type of tea is an excellent choice for making Chai. Although you may use tea bags too, some may brew into a less aromatic cup.
Sugar is the usual sweetener for masala chai, but you may replace it with some other sweetener such as erythritol or silver birch sugar. Although it’s perfectly fine to use honey, stevia or other sweeteners, they will have more impact on the flavor.
The best tea for making masala chai is full-fat cow’s milk. However, if you are a vegan or vegetarian, choose richer plant-based milks such as cashew or oat milk. Learn more about best milk for tea here.
Where to Buy
You can buy pre-made masala chai blends that contain both spices and black tea leaves online. You can choose from dozens of blends, including masala chai with chocolate or fresher masala chai with lemongrass. They are a great alternative if you don’t have much time for making a traditional chai from a scratch. You can either brew pre-made tea blends using a teapot or simmer them over low heat in the saucepan on the stove. If you are making chai masala from a scratch, you can find spices in many supermarkets or specialized Indian groceries stores.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Every person is different and may react to different herbs and teas differently. Never use teas or herbs to treat serious medical conditions on your own. Always seek professional medical advice before choosing home remedies.