Have you ever wanted to make your own chai masala?
I had my first cup of real chai (the Hindi word for “tea”) when I was backpacking through India about five years ago. Sitting stooped on a low hessian sack in a dusty alleyway the vendor carefully brewed, steeped and mixed a tiny cup of deep brown, creamy tea. When I first tried it, I was suitably impressed. It was better than good. I drank it a lot, often ordering thirds and fourths at the stalls whilst I sat (drenched is sweat and caked in brown dust) and watched the incredible world around me (you can see a selection of pictures here and here). Cradling a tiny cup in one hand and my camera in the other. Just watching. Ever since then I have had a love affair with chai masala (and India). But the tea bags and the powdered mixes from the supermarket have never really had the right taste. So I’ve been experimenting. I looked up lots of recipes and tried lots of things and experimented and came up with the below recipe for chai masala.
The best thing about making your own chai is that you can adjust the masala (the spice mixture) exactly to your taste, adding or subtracting any of the myriad of ingredients that work so well in this aromatic drink. Mine is good for me, but you might like to shift the ingredients around so that it’s perfect for you.
Easy Chai Recipe:
1-2 Cinnamon Sticks
Sliced fresh ginger (I used quite a lot, probably six or seven slices)
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1 tablespoon of ground cloves (whole cloves work well too)
1.5 large tablespoon of ground cardamom (or 5-6 cardamom pods)
1.5 cups of water
1 cup of full cream milk (trust me, full cream is better, they use buffalo milk in India, but there is no reproducing that here – can also substitute with a nut milk or condensed milk if you’re feeling particularly naughty)
2 large tablespoons of loose black tea
You can add a whole range of spices to your liking, for a full list of Chai related spices check out this website (there is another different, but I’m sure equally delicious recipe there too).
Combine all spices (except the ginger) in a mortar and pestle and grind them up to release the flavour. You don’t need to grind into a fine powder, just give it a good smash. Add the ginger and give it a bit of a smash to crush it up slightly. It should smell amazing. This is your masala base.
Add the masala ingredients to a small saucepan and mix with the water. Heat until boiling and then add the tea and give a good stir. Reduce to a simmer and add the milk slowly. Allow the mixture to heat up but don’t let it boil. Once the milk starts to bubble around the edges turn the heat off and cover to let it steep for a while.
After about five minutes or so, strain the mixture through a tea strainer (of if you don’t have one, a piece of muslin works well too) and serve hot with a spoonful of honey to taste.
The best thing about this recipe is that it’s a good masala foundation. You can pump up the spices or add extra spices if you want it to be a bit punchier. It’s delicious, warm and extremely good for your body, in fact all of the spices in traditional chai have healing benefits. You can read more info on that here.
If you have a baby spice lover like I do, you may have to wrestle your hot cup away… like I do. I make Bo her own chai the same way, I just don’t add any black tea to hers, the last thing she needs is the caffeine! I just brew her a little pot of the spices with warm milk and she happily sits and drinks it with a spoon like a soup. It’s good for her, and she loves it. That’s a big win in my book.
I’m still in the process of trying to create the perfect pantry version of this recipe. It is a bit time consuming and messy to make, so I’d love to make one that is ground into a fine powder so I can just add a couple of teaspoons of the masala mix whenever I want to make a pot. I’m guessing I’ll have to substitute the fresh ginger for powdered stuff? It’s a work in progress…
Do you have a great recipe?