Chai spice is a soothing tea that originated in China and travelled to India. Learn how to make your own chai spice blend customised to your taste as we breakdown each spice ingredient for you.
One origin story points to how people used this traditional beverage in Indian Ayurveda medicine some 3000-5000 years ago. Other recorded history shows how the British secretly brought the tea to India for trade, cementing its association with the country years later.
Its history aside, the antioxidant benefits of the drink are an excellent reason to try making it for your healthy diet. However, rather than relying on a store-bought version, why not customise your blend to suit your taste buds?
Our love for a good chai mix had us trying numerous recipes to find the best chai spice recipe at home. Follow along as we create this fragrant and traditional blend!
What spices are in chai?
The traditional chai spices are ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, black peppercorns, cloves and coriander.
These were spices that were readily available in India. In some recipes, you might also see vanilla, nutmeg, mace, star anise or fennel.
As this fragrant tea travelled westward from India to the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia and worldwide, people started adding spices they could access in their home country. As a result, you might also see spices such as bay leaves, allspice, cacao and saffron added to the caffeinated blend.
Since tea is drunk frequently in India, many Indian families have their own masala chai spice mix recipe. So, you might come across different variations of the drink.
An interesting fact to share with your friends as you sip on your own traditional and authentic blend is the word chai in Hindi means tea. This word is derived from 'cha', the Chinese word for tea. This drink is not just delicious.
As you savour this fragrant drink, its fascinating travel history due to the trading of Asian spices from China to India and worldwide is also worth knowing!
What does chai spice taste like?
Chai spice has a clean, sharp taste, similar to the taste of gingerbread. However, some people also can detect undernotes of sweetness, like cardamom, which has a beautiful floral flavour. It is not quite as overpowering as mint, as the sharpness of the spices fades away to leave a medicinal aftertaste.
Chai spice ingredients
To make your chai spice tea, you need the following ingredients:
- Black tea
- Black pepper
- Star anise
We recommend choosing black CTC (crush, tear, curl) teas. These are processed leaf granules that produce strong black tea. While they do not have many subtle, fine undernotes when drunk alone, their bold flavour goes well with the strong spices. You can find this online or at the stores.
Cinnamon adds a slightly bitter medicinal taste to the drink. Since it is extracted from the bark of a tree, you'll taste the natural, earthy flavour of plants if you add cinnamon. It has many health benefits, from lowering blood sugar to reducing heart disease risk.
Ginger provides a peppery, spicy edge to the drink. You'll want to add ginger for the 'wake me up’ buzz.
Cloves increase the intensity of spices added to the drink and add a deep, rich warmth to the blend. It also has plenty of antioxidants, which can protect cells in your body.
Cardamom lends the drink a citrusy flavour and subtle notes of mint. The spice is harvested as seed pods and has plenty of health benefits.
Black pepper is much needed if your drink is as flavourful as possible. On its own, black pepper is bold and aromatic. However, when added to the glass, the pepper gives more intensity to other flavours.
Last but not least, fennel is an optional ingredient. However, if added, it has a light fragrance and gives the chai spice a mild herbal flavour.
Sweet Chai Spice Blend
You can add milk and a sweetener, such as honey, for a sweeter and creamier blend. But first, you'll need to get the spice mix ready. Either buy a ready-made version or grind a fresh batch of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, pepper and ginger. Then, add it to a rich black tea such as Assam.
To make it sweet, steep the spices in whole milk. It'll result in a creamier texture. Afterwards, add honey, sugar or agave nectar.
Once you've added your sweetener to the warm caffeinated base, strain the drink. Finally, you can adapt this recipe to make a dirty chai, a latte version of the drink.
Spicy Chai Spice Blend
If you like your chai spice extra spicy, you will want to add more fresh ginger to the traditional blend. Fresh ginger is fiery and elevates the spicy notes in the drink.
When preparing the ginger, wash the peel and leave it on so that the intense heat comes through. Then grate the ginger and use about four teaspoons of it.
We recommend adding an even ratio of 1:1 with the ginger and the peppercorns to get more heat. Finally, crush 2-3 cardamom and black pepper together as it releases the essence, and you'll get a more peppery drink.
Low caffeine chai spice blend
You can follow these tips to customise your chai spice mix if you prefer a low-caffeine drink.
You can substitute a chai spice mix for coffee as it's usually highly caffeinated, but it's possible to decaffeinate it. For example, you can opt to use no or less tea and add milk to the spice blend.
Additionally, you can reduce the time you steep the infusion in cool water, reducing caffeine by as much as 80%.
Most authentic chai spice recipes recommend CTC (crush, tear, curl) teas, which are processed, ground leaves. This processed form results in a highly caffeinated brew. So instead of adding tea, you can also reach for chai lattes in powder form.
How to store
Chai spice blends can stay fresh for up to a year if you always store them in a cool, dark place. Ensure that you keep it in an airtight container and away from heat, light and moisture. Never store tea in the fridge, as other items can leach their flavour into the tea.
Best Chai Spice Mix (DIY masala blend)
- 240 ml water
- 120 ml whole milk
- 2 tsps granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon black tea
- 4 cardamom pods smashed
- 1 pc cinnamon stick
- ¼ fresh ginger
- 10 fennel seeds
- Boil water and milk together in a saucepan. When it simmers, add the chai spice mix.
- Lower heat to the lowest temperature. Add masala blend and steep until the tea is a tan brown. Then strain and serve with sugar.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and is only a rough estimate.
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