Sweetened black tea with milk and aromatic spices, known as Masala chai, is the true symbol of hospitality in India. From breakfast chai to afternoon snack chai, Indians drink chai every day, often several times per day. Any activity is a happy cause for a cup of chai.
Sit down for more than a moment, whether in a shop or office, and someone will run out and quickly return with a hot, steaming chai for everyone present. It’s a good thing that each serving is just a tiny cup!
On the home front, in keeping with the Indian saying, “Treat the guest like God,” it’s a social duty for every woman-of-the-house to provide a comfortable seat to guests appearing on her doorstep. This offer to “aaraam se” or take it easy, is generally accompanied by a cup of chai and snacks.
Visiting India over many years, we had ample opportunity to develop a serious chai habit. We were invited to chai by almost everyone we encountered – total strangers that we met in passing, rickshaw drivers, students, colleagues… we came to truly adore our masala chai!
But you don’t need to travel across continents to indulge in this classic Indian beverage. All you need is some good quality black tea, milk, sugar, a variety of aromatic spices, and a little technique. Recipes will vary, but most all start with ginger root, black pepper, and cardamom. Fresh ginger if available, can be used instead of dried ginger powder.
Additional chai spices include cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and star anise. The whole dried spices, known as “masala spices,” are often ground on-demand, but this recipe contains dried spice powders for ease, with options included for use of fresh spices.
If you prefer a highly spiced tea, increase the amount of spices according to your taste.
If you prefer to use fresh ginger, grate a ¼-inch slice of ginger and add it to the water and tea when boiling.
You can crush dried whole spices yourself to make the spice mix according to the proportions in the above recipe e.g. crushing green cardamom pods results in a much stronger cardamom flavour
If you choose to use brown sugar, do not boil the sugar as the molasses in the sugar may cause the chai to curdle.