Savor a cup of chai
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” ~Thich Nat Hahn
Tea in so many cultures is just the thing to help one catch your breath, digest good or bad news, and bond with friends and loved ones. And a chai recipe is a very personal thing. The chai you want may even vary by the time of day. A dedicated chai drinker can down a dozen or more cups a day. So here is your chance to have fun experimenting with your favorite combination of spices, or no spices at all. Or make ginger chai (adrak ki chai) like Archana of the ministry of curry. Or maybe just a pod or 2 of cardamom . . . the choices are endless.
Chai means tea
Masala means spices, and chai means tea. So when talking about chai, you don’t need to add the word tea. Otherwise, you are saying tea tea! In India, the love of chai has been going on for thousands of years. Thought early on to be a healthy, cleansing Ayurvedic drink, and it was served hot or cold for an assortment of ills. It wasn’t until the British established tea plantations in Assam in the 1830s that tea was added to the mix. Since tea was expensive, it was used sparingly and added to milk, sugar, and spices. Today one can find chai on the streets, at truck stops, on trains, and it is always served to guests in the Indian home.
To begin my chai adventure, I found Chef Ranveer Brar’s recipe on YouTube. It caught my eye because it starts with a generous amount of fennel, one of my favorite spices. While I really liked my first pass, I popped in a star anise in my next masala mix. It shares a licorice flavor with fennel but with an added floral warmth that I love. And so I experimented from there—more cinnamon and a bit of allspice, another favorite spice of mine. If you are like me, you will wonder about the black pepper, but don’t leave it out. There is no burn, but the pepper adds a lovely depth of flavor.
Chai is typically made with whole milk but any “milk” that you prefer works. The tea you use can be anything from an inexpensive tea bag (or loose tea) to a caffeine-free rooibos tea, gunpowder green like they do in Kashmiri, all the way to an intense Assam tea. You can also make your chai with whole spices like Madhur Jaffrey recommends in her interview with Food52. Or you can choose whole spices, give them a whirl in your spice grinder, and add a 1/4 teaspoon of masala for each cup of tea. This gives you a quicker cup of tea, which is how I’ve gone with my chai recipe.
I like milky tea, so I’ve gone with 1 to 1 milk to water. Choose the balance that works for you and certainly go dairy-free if that is how you roll. And you will also get to choose your tea. I agree with Madhur Jaffrey that P.G. Tips tea bags are the way to go, but you can also use loose tea or decaffeinated tea. Either way, you will need to strain your chai before drinking it.
So as you can see, you have lots of room to play. See my Notes below for more ideas of other spices to add to your mix. Start with my chai recipe and change it up with ingredients to suit your taste and give yourself a breather with a reinvigorating cup of chai.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Alonna’s Chai Recipe
Chai Spice Mix
- 2 tablespoons fennel seed
- 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1/2 cinnamon stick ~ Cassia works here too
- 1/2 small nutmeg
- 3 cloves
- 6 whole peppercorns
- 8 green cardamoms
- 1 star anise ~ Optional
- 1 pinch salt
Making 2 Cups of Tea
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon sugar ~ More or less to taste, or any sweetner
- 1 tea bag ~ Or 3 teaspoons loose tea
- 1 cup whole milk ~ Or milk of your choice
- 1/2 teaspoon chai spice mix
Chai Spice Mix
- Gather the spices you are using to make your spice mix.
- In a spice grinder or personal blender grind all the spices into a fine powder. Mix in the salt and store the powder in an airtight container.
Make Two Cups of Chai
- Gather your chai ingredients.
- I a medium pan over high heat bring 1 cup of water to boil. Add the sugar and tea and bring it to a boil again.
- Add the milk and chai spice mix, turn the heat to medium-low, and bring to a low boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Keep a watch on the pan to make sure it doesn't boil over if your pan is on the small side.
- Other flavorings to consider using for Alonna's chai recipe: saffron, allspice, rose petals, 2 to 3 fresh mint leaves, and lemon juice.
- Other sweeteners: honey, jaggery, brown sugar, or any sugar substitute you love.
- Play with the milk you like and the proportions. I like milky tea, but you may prefer more or less.