Monday, January 9, 2012

Masala Chai

Awhile back, we made a post on "the perfect cup of coffee." Well, it turns out that we do not have an exclusive relationship with coffee. In fact, we enjoy tea just as much (on some mornings, even more!). We thought it would be nice to go through how we make masala chai, to provide an analog to the coffee post.

First, a little background on what masala chai means. Many Americans think that the word "chai" refers to an Indian-spiced drink - this is actually not the case. "Chai" derives from the Chinese word "cha," which simply means "tea." So, yes, all those times you ordered a "chai tea," you were being redundant! Now, masala chai does refer to an Indian-spiced tea. The spices can vary depending on personal preference: ginger, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and even pepper are all used throughout India. We personally like cardamom and cinnamon and used it here.

Black tea is used to make masala chai. There are many types of black teas available, but the best for masala chai come from Assam (in Northeastern India) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Avoid Darjeeling tea, which is too light to be complemented by the spices. Assam tea is my favorite, and among Assam teas, you will find many different grades. The lowest grades come in tea bags (which I never use), while the higher grades are termed orange pekoe. For masala chai, we often use what is known as CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea, which refers to how the tea was processed. While this is not the highest quality tea, it brews quickly and strongly, making it excellent for combing with spices for masala chai (we get all of our tea from Upton Tea - they have excellent selection, fast shipping, and great explanations on some of the basics of choosing teas).

Now, the first step in brewing the tea is to prepare the spices. Use 1 green cardamom pod and piece of cinnamon bark per cup of tea. Crush these with a mortar and pestle.

Next, measure out your water. Simply use your tea cup, and put as many cups full of water into a saucepan as you plan to drink. Put the crushed spices in the water.  Measure out 1-1.5 tsp of tea per cup and add that into the water. Give it a quick stir so that everything is submerged in the water and turn the stove on to medium-high.

Have your milk out and ready to pour. In your cup, add sweetener to taste (masala chai is fairly sweet, so per cup, we usually use 3 tsp sugar/sweetener). Now, as soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, add the milk. We judge the amount of milk to add by color. CTC teas tend to produce fairly dark tea, so when we add the milk, it looks like this:

Let the tea come back to a boil (see, now your milk is heated too, preventing the cooling from adding cold milk or the extra effort of boiling milk separately). Immediately pour it through a tea strainer (can be found at kitchen stores, grocery stores, or Amazon for a few bucks) into your waiting cup:

Give it a quick stir and it's ready to drink! We typically enjoy tea with Indian tea biscuits (cookies) that can be found in Indian stores or any of the lovely fresh baked treats that we prepare (Tricia's lavender shortbread went well with this tea!).


  1. Great new design of the site too!

  2. Agreed, the site looks really great! Never knew all about what goes in chai. Very interesting! Is it easy to find this tea to buy?

  3. Thanks all for the comments on the re-design!

    Loose black tea is relatively easy to find. It is generally available at Indian or Asian stores (for masala chai, look for brands like Brooke Bond or Lipton that say they are from Assam in India). For a wider selection, check out Located in MA, they pack your tea freshly when you order, and ship very quickly (we get the tea with as little as a 2-day turnaround).

    1. Thanks for this info!