Sunday, November 25, 2007

Making Masala Chai

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a coffee drinker. Instead, I like tea. I also really like a nice cup of chai, however, finding a nice cup of chai in restaurants or in purchased mixtures is pretty difficult. There are only two places I've found where I like the chai, the rest have clearly used some sort of pre-made solution and it's bitter as all hell.

I was poking around on the Adagio tea site and someone linked to a recipe on wikiHow, of all places, for Masala Chai (Spice tea). Yum! Strangely enough, I'd always thought 'masala' was a specific set of spices, turns out it just means 'spice'. Chai means tea, which means every time you and I have been saying chai tea we were just being pointlessly redundant.

Here's the recipe:


  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger root; grated
  • 1 whole star anise; broken up
  • 1 teaspoon orange peel; grated
  • 4 pieces cinnamon sticks; 1 1/2 inch
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds*
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 5 whole peppercorns
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/4 cup black tea leaves; (like Assam or Darjeeling)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 cups skim milk


  1. Bundle up the first seven ingredients in a length of cheese cloth and tie it together with a string. This is called a bouquet garni (pronounced "boo-KAY gar-NEE").
  2. Place the bouquet garni in a pot of water. The string should be tied to the handle for easy removal later on.
  3. Bring the water to a very low boil, then reduce the heat and simmer. Boiling water may extract too much bitterness from the tea leaves.
  4. Add tea leaves and continue simmering for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the bouquet garni.
  6. Strain the remaining liquid through a sieve to remove tea leaves.
  7. Add honey, vanilla, and milk.
  8. Serve. Pour the mixture over crushed ice if you're serving it cold. This makes eight servings.


  • Tea leaves can release too much bitterness if exposed to hot water for too long. The general rule of thumb when making an "infusion" such as this is that the longer the ingredients remain in the liquid, the stronger their flavor will be. Experiment with a variety of leaves and time durations to see what works best for you.
  • Remember that Chai Tea is an infinitely adaptable recipe. You may consider removing or changing the quantities of any of the ingredients, to your taste. For example, instead of honey, regular sugar or brown sugar could be used. Nutmeg is a common addition (best freeshly grated), and you may wish to try licorice, saffron, chocolate or cocoa.
  • Feel free to experiment with other techniques such as using green or white tea instead of black tea leaves. Other variations could use soy milk instead of skim milk. Or you could use a different sweetener than honey, such as rice syrup or maple syrup.
  • If you don't have cheesecloth or find it messy to deal with, you can purchase empty paper tea bags from a tea shop. Fill it with your spices (and another with tea leaves if you wish), close it with an inexpensive bag clip, then discard it when done. You can also get cloth bags made of unbleached muslin that are reusable. They close with a drawstring. Alternatively you can rely on the straining process to remove much of the solids but finely grated spices will pass through.
  • The proper name for the drink known as "chai" or "chai tea" is "masala chai." The word "chai" is Urdu, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese and Russian for "tea", while "masala" is Hindi for "spice". If you say you are making "chai" that would mean that you are making plain tea. Thus both words are necessary.
  • There are four kinds of cinnamon: China Cassia, Vietnamese Cassia, Korintje Cassia and Ceylon Cinnamon. Ceylon is twice as expensive and well worth it. Try all four or a combination.
  • Some chai tea recipes call for a longer boiling time, such as one hour. In this instance, some ingredients, such as ginger, can be chopped into larger chunks. The tea may be added last (separately), and allowed to infuse after the concoction has stopped boiling. Some chai tea variations may also call for mint leaves, and exclude other ingredients, such as vanilla. Delicate ingredients such as mint leaves should be added during the end of the boil, or merely allowed to infuse after the boil has ended.

Changes I made:
  • Didn't have star anise, so I skipped it. Can't stand anise flavor, anyway.
  • Used 2% milk instead of skim. This would probably be even yummier with whole. It's not like I'm currently worried about calories!
  • 1/4 cup of honey is only enough to just barely sweeten the tea, but it's probably better that way to allow the amount of sweetener to be altered individually. Eric liked it better with sugar, while I liked it with honey.
  • I made it with Darjeeling this time. Might be fun to try other black tea varieties.
  • I may drop the vanilla to 3/4 tsp next time.
Overall? Yum!

Do you have a chai recipe that knocks your socks off? Share it in the comments.

Now I just need some tea biscuits....

* Yes, I really do have strange spices like whole cardamom seeds in my spice cabinet. We're crazy foodies at Chez Hatchet.

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