Masala chai is an aromatic, indulgent drink with sweet and zesty notes that will tickle your taste buds. You cannot miss this flavoursome drink if you are a tea lover. It is among the most comforting beverages we've ever tried.
You've probably heard of "chai", thanks to Starbucks. However, due to its popularity, many confuse the Starbucks menu item and the Indian spiced-infused drink. While they are both teas, chai is simply tea with milk. On the other hand, masala chai is a combination of tea, milk, and a blend of spices.
We're undeniably hooked on this exciting concoction, so we couldn't just live on without making the perfect recipe. We experimented with various spice forms, from whole spice mix to tea bags to powdered versions. It took us numerous sips (and spills) to make the best masala chai recipe we've ever created. But it's all worth it because this is now our go-to recipe for when the craving hits.
We've made our recipe easily customisable and as straightforward as possible. So, whether you're lactose intolerant, vegan, or someone with adventurous taste buds, our recipe works perfectly for everyone. It is also very forgiving, so there's always room for modifications as you prepare it!
What is masala chai?
Masala chai is a fragrant tea brewed with a medley of aromatic spices like cardamom, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Black tea leaves and spices are simmered in water and then combined with milk and sugar to make a velvety decoction. It is often served hot and can be enjoyed at any time. This infused brew originated in India during British colonisation.
What does it taste like?
Generally, masala chai tastes sweet and spicy with a rich and creamy texture. However, texture and taste vary depending on the ingredients. The black tea offers a bold and robust flavour balanced with milk and the sweetness of sugar. Ginger and black pepper contribute to the signature spicy taste, whereas ingredients like cinnamon and cardamom enhance the sweetness.
Masala chai benefits
Some masala chai benefits include reducing blood sugar levels, increasing immunity, improving heart health, and aiding digestion. According to medical sites like Healthline, Emoha, and Lybrate, it can also reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes.
Moreover, the beverage is anti-inflammatory as it contains ginger, which is known to effectively reduce inflammation in the body. Therefore, ultimately this decoction is good for you since it can improve your health in many ways. We love that it is a delicious remedy that you can enjoy daily, whether to cure your cold or fuel your body with nutrition. This drink contains caffeine, usually less than coffee, and the amount varies depending on the tea used.
Masala chai spices
The key spices in a cup of masala chai are ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cardamom, and black peppercorns. These ingredients make up the creamy Indian decoction in most coffee shops and tea houses. They are the most common masala chai spices since they are easily accessible in India. However, other recipes we've seen might also incorporate nutmeg, fennel, mace, and star anise.
Our go-to mix of chai spices includes four cardamom pods, a piece of cinnamon stick, 1 inch of fresh ginger, and ten fennel seeds.
Cardamom introduces a slightly minty and citrusy taste, while cinnamon provides a sweet, earthy flavour. We only put a bit of ginger as we prefer the heat from it to be subtle. However, you can add more ginger for a spicier and more robust flavour. Lastly, fennel is an optional ingredient we like to use to enhance the drink's aroma and make it sweeter.
You can make the spicy beverage in two ways, that is, by using instant spice blend or whole spices. We highly recommend using whole spices for a more robust aroma and taste since they are fresh. Using whole spices also allows you to alter the flavour of your drink based on your preferences.
For example, you can make your beverage less spicy by reducing ginger and pepper or make it sweeter with more fennel seeds. Moreover, this is the best way to make the most authentic masala chai and enjoy it regularly. However, you can use instant spice blends.
Best masala chai powder
Masala chai powder consists of several spices and tea blended into a powder and stored in a container. It is convenient as it makes the preparation much quicker and easier. Furthermore, we think it is also the best option if you're not too particular about the flavours of the drink. You can either get the powder from supermarkets or make it on your own.
However, a powder blend is less fresh than whole spices, which will indeed affect the drink's flavour. This is why we recommend making and storing a small amount of masala chai powder if you're preparing it yourself. Otherwise, try to invest in a good quality pre-made spice powder. We recommend using powders by Blue Lotus, Spicewalla, and DelighTed for the best results.
Best masala chai tea bags
Masala chai tea bags are the most convenient and easiest way to prepare this spicy drink. It is the best option to make the beverage at work or enjoy it on the go instantly. You only have to brew the bag in a cup and add some milk.
Despite that, the drink's flavour and quality are limited to the contents of the tea bag. Besides deciding on additional sweeteners and milk, you can't adjust the spice's flavour to suit your tastes. However, there are days when you just need a quick masala chai fix. So we suggest trying tea bags from Vahdam, FGO Organic, and Wagh Bakri for the most satisfying spicy beverage from a tea bag.
Masala chai ingredients
The main masala chai ingredients that you'll need are spices, black tea, milk, water, and sweetener.
You are free to prepare your own careful selection of chai spices, tea bags or masala chai powder to make your spicy decoction. While there are common ingredients used, it is worth noting that the combination of ingredients is not set in stone.
For instance, you can mix vanilla with spices like cinnamon and ginger to create a comforting cup of vanilla chai. Furthermore, in India, the spice mix varies by region and household. Some include saffron to give the drink an earthy-sweet profile, and others use Tulsi (holy basil leaf) for an immunity boost.
Masala chai is traditionally made with loose black tea leaves. However, processed black tea is now often used. We suggest using loose black tea leaves for a more flavourful drink because the processed version tends to taste lighter.
Processed tea comes in two forms: the granular form, CTC, and the powder form, Tea Dust. Tea dust is the better option if you wish to brew and make the drink quicker. But we recommend using CTC tea if you want the drink to have more robust flavours. Besides these two forms, you can also get instant black tea bags commonly sold in supermarkets.
The authentic masala chai recipe uses Indian teas, such as Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri. Assam is the most common selection out of the three since it has a bold, full-bodied taste. However, some prefer combining two or more teas for a better experience.
For instance, Assam tea can be mixed with Darjeeling tea for the best colour, texture, aroma, and flavour. If you don't have the ones we've mentioned, you can opt for other black teas like Ceylon and Earl Grey.
In fact, you can also make the best masala chai recipe with green tea. As mentioned, the drink has regional variations. For example, people in Kashmir sometimes use green tea instead of black tea. It goes well with the spices but will give a lighter flavour than masala chai with a black tea base. We will use Darjeeling tea for our recipe.
The best type of milk for masala chai is undoubtedly whole or full-fat milk. Full-fat or whole milk contains more fat, making it richer and creamier than low-fat milk. It creates a filmy layer on top of the drink and brings out the richness of the spices. Alternatively, you can use 2% milk if you prefer the drink to be less thick yet still creamy enough. We don't suggest using skim milk because it will cause the texture to be too watery.
Adding too much milk can affect the drink's taste, making it too milky. It can also make the tea more acidic because the milk cuts down the antioxidants sourced from the spices. On the other hand, adding too little milk will cause the drink to be watery.
Depending on the milk, the ideal ratio of water to milk should range from 1:1 to 3:1. Use 1:1 for low-fat milk and 3:1 for full-fat milk. However, the 2:1 ratio is the best for full-fat milk if you want the beverage to be less milky and creamy. Therefore, for our recipe, we will be using a 2:1 ratio.
This drink is very forgiving, so you can also use plant-based milk like oat and cashew milk. These variations are creamy and offer a slightly sweet flavour that won't ruin the taste of the decoction. However, we don't recommend almond milk since it is too watery. If you want more flavour, use soy milk to add a distinctive sweet taste. You can use a 3:1 ratio of water to milk for oat, cashew, and soy milk. Use a 1:1 ratio for thinner milk like almond milk.
The traditional masala chai recipe typically uses an unrefined sweetener known as jaggery. Thus, it is the best sweetener to use if you plan on recreating the authentic version of the beverage. However, it isn't easy to find outside India, so you can go for coconut or brown sugar instead. Plain white sugar is also frequently used to prepare the hot beverage.
You can also sweeten the beverage with honey, maple syrup, or stevia. Plain sugar can be mixed and dissolved while making the chai. However, you should add jaggery, honey, or maple syrup once the drink is off the heat but still hot.
How to Make Masala Chai
The basic process of making masala chai consists of the following:
- Preparing the spice blend
- Boiling water and adding the ingredients
This drink provides room for creativity and, thus, allows variations of methods to prepare it. However, let's break down the process into two main steps:
Preparing your chai spice
Using chai spice mix:
- Crush or break the whole spices into smaller bits using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Make sure to crush them finely to bring out the flavours.
- Boil water over high heat in a pot for about a minute or two.
- Add the spices once the water comes to a boil and lower the temperature to low heat.
- Then, add the tea leaves and let the mixture simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Brewing chai tea bag
Preparing the drink using a chai tea bag is much simpler than using a whole spice mix. You can straight away boil some water, add the tea bag, and then let it steep for 3-5 minutes.
Using instant chai powder
Put half a teaspoon of instant masala chai powder into boiling water if you're using instant masala chai powder. Then, let it simmer for 2-3 minutes on low heat to release all the flavour.
Making masala chai
- Add milk to the pot and let it boil over medium-high heat. After that, add sugar to the mixture and lower the heat again. Let it simmer for 4-5 minutes.
- Then, aerate the chai. You can do this via two methods: double boiling or chai pulling.
Double boiling involves bringing the mixture to a boil on high heat and letting it rise until it almost reaches the top. Then, quickly remove the pot from the heat or lower the heat of the gas stove until it comes back down. Next, repeat the same steps for the second boil.
Alternatively, you can pull the fragrant drink as done by chai vendors in India. This more straightforward method requires you to repeatedly pour the drink from a certain height to create bubbles. It can be done using a ladle or small cup to scoop the infused beverage off the pot and pour it back.
- Strain the drink into serving cups. Then, the drink is ready to be served.
Making in advance and storage
You can prepare a big batch of this masala chai recipe in advance and store it for up to a week. However, we suggest preparing it beforehand without milk to preserve the drink longer. You can add milk once you heat the stored portions individually.
To store the fully made masala chai with milk, prepare it as usual and allow it to cool. Then, store it in a container or covered jug in the fridge for up to 4 days. Once ready to enjoy it, reheat it on the stovetop over low heat. Alternatively, you can microwave the drink in 30-second intervals with stirring.
It is possible to make the chai spice mix in advance and keep it in an airtight container for later. But do not make too much of it at once because freshly made mixtures offer more flavour. Therefore, we suggest making just enough to use it all up within 2-3 weeks.
You can also prepare a masala chai latte using this masala chai recipe by creating milk froth after straining the tea. The milk froth can be made manually by vigorously whisking milk over medium-high heat. Alternatively, you can use an electric milk frother to make a masala chai latte.
Effective aeration techniques
Pulled masala chai tastes the best because it has richer consistency as the milk fats are dispersed during the process. Most chai vendors in India pull the tea to give it a bubbly and frothy appearance. 'Pulling' is the process of repeatedly pouring the beverage back and forth between two pots from a great distance. This will give it a smoother, creamier texture and a thicker, silkier mouthfeel. You can mimic the technique by using a cup or ladle to scoop up some tea and pour it back into the pot while simmering.
Double boiling is an alternative to aerate your chai drink by boiling it on high heat until the bubbles reach the top twice. However, this can get messy if the bubbles boil out of the pot. A helpful trick to prevent the decoction from overflowing is to put a wooden spoon over the top of the pot.
Adding too much water and too little milk can cause your drink to be watery. The ideal ratio of water to milk should be around 3:1 to 1:1, depending on the type of milk. 1:1 ratio works for low-fat milk, whereas 3:1 works for full-fat milk. However, use a 2:1 ratio for full-fat milk if you prefer the drink to be a little less creamy. If your drink is too watery, you can easily add a bit more milk until it achieves the creamy texture.
Adding too much tea can cause your drink to be bitter. If your drink is bitter from too much tea, try to add a bit more milk and let it simmer. The drink must be made within 8-10 minutes because the longer you boil it, the more bitter it will taste. Plus, boiling it for too long will reduce the quantity of masala chai due to evaporation. So, let it boil for a few minutes, and turn off the heat once you can smell the sweet aroma.
The authentic masala chai recipe often incorporates ginger in the drink. However, adding milk before the ginger boils can cause the milky beverage to curdle, especially when using fresh ginger. This is because fresh ginger contains protease enzymes that cause curdling in milk. Thus, it is essential to always boil the ginger with the tea to destroy the enzyme before adding the milk.
Sweetener is an essential ingredient in the drink that accentuates and enhances the flavours of spices against bitterness. Therefore, skipping it altogether will risk suppressing the spices' richness. You can add plain sugar as you boil the warming beverage. But if you're using jaggery, honey, or coconut sugar, add them once you turn off the heat.
Make it Spicier
You can add more ginger to your spice blend if you prefer a spicier drink. Similarly, you can add more peppercorns for a peppery taste. We suggest adding ginger and peppercorns with a 1:1 ratio for an enhanced heat level.
There may be too little tea in your masala chai if it looks dull or lacks a vibrant brownish colour. To fix this, add more tea leaves or powder and continue to simmer until the desired colour is achieved. But do not simmer it for more than 10 minutes to prevent bitterness.
Best Boiling Pot
We recommend using a stainless-steel saucepan when making the spicy beverage. Once you're done, some burnt milk or residue may be stuck on the bottom of the pot. Using a stainless-steel saucepan will make it easier to scrub off the residue later. Alternatively, cast-iron pots will work well in making the drink too.
Serving the Tea
While straining the drink, use a wooden spoon to press and squeeze on the leaves and spices before discarding them. This will bring out the excess flavour trapped in the ingredients and make your cuppa more flavourful.
Masala Chai Recipe (Authentic Chai Blend)
- 1 tablespoon loose-leaf black tea
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1 pc cinnamon stick
- 1 inch fresh ginger
- ¼ teaspoon black peppercorn
- 10 fennel seeds
- 120 ml whole milk
- 240 ml water
- 3-4 tsps sugar
- Prepare the spices by adding the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and black peppercorn to a mortar pestle. Crush them to a powder to release essence and flavour.
- Then, pour water into a pot over high heat until it starts to boil.
- Add the spice blend, ginger, and tea once the water boils. Let the mixture boil on low to medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Make sure that the chai is boiling rapidly.
- Once the flavours are well-infused, add the milk and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Then, add sugar to the mixture. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 4-5 minutes until the chai darkens and thickens. Once the drink is ready, you will notice a layer of cream at the top.
- Aerate the chai by pulling it for a traditional Indian taste. Next, pour or scoop off some of the drink using a cup with a handle. Then, pour the hot tea back into the pot from a height of 1 ½ to 2 feet in a slow stream. Repeat this step a few times.
- Strain the hot beverage into serving cups. Serve and enjoy!
- You can substitute loose-leaf tea with tea bags or powder.
- Add more fresh ginger to the spice mix to make the drink spicier.
- You can substitute sugar with sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and jaggery. However, these sweeteners should only be added once the masala chai is removed from the heat.
- You can also aerate the drink by double boiling the drink over high heat.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
So, have you tried making yourself a cup of masala chai yet? Please share your reviews with us on Instagram @honestfoodtalks and follow us on our journey for more flavourful sips!