Masala Chai, the spiced, milky and often very sweet tea is a ubiquitous part of Indian life.
For me it is the ultimate cuppa. There is something that is soul satisfying in the time it takes to brew – the exotic spices journeying to my nose on swirls of steam and the deep exhale of contentment after I’ve taken my first sip.
Try one of these masala chai recipes to make your own soul satisfying brew at home.
At Dera Mandawa, where we stay in Jaipur on our Ladies Only India: Fabric, Food & Fabulous tour, I always order masala chai for my ‘bed tea’ that is delivered to my room each morning by one of Durga & Usha’s Singh’s team of lovely gentlemen who look after us during our stay.
Sometimes I happily sip away from the comfort of my room, on other mornings I venture out to one of the numerous nooks and crannies of this delightful boutique stay, find a comfortable place to park my behind and listen to the birds chirping in the trees of the courtyard.
At home in Cromwell, no one is keen to take on ‘bed tea’ duties so I usually wait and brew my own for morning tea.
The time is taken to make and enjoy a chai is provides me with a break from my desk and computer, a chance to relax and temporarily put work to the back of my mind.
It is time to time to savour the aroma of the spices infusing, perhaps daydream about a memory of India as well as ensuring that at least a sliver of the day is enjoyed at a slower pace.
The Origins of Masala Chai
India is the second largest tea producer in the world. The origins of Masala Chai is a little murky but generally it is believed it started (without the tea leaves) as a concoction of healing herbs and spices. Tea Leaves were not added until the British established tea plantations in India and distributed tea initially for free thus ensuring the development of a ‘local’ market.
Once you’ve tasted a ‘real’ chai, you’ll probably find it hard (or in my case, impossible) to drink a cafe chai latte again.
Making the perfect chai is an artform, something I have never been able to replicate even after some ‘eagle eye’ time with the ‘masters of chai’ the chaiwallah’s at the roadside stalls. The ‘art’ is to boil the brew for long enough to ensure the flavours are perfectly infused and balanced whilst ensuring the liquid is thickened to the perfect consistency.
Just like we may have a favourite barista as our go to person for the ultimate caffeine fix, Indian’s will have a preferred chaiwallah. The bloke that consistently delivers the perfect brew.
Chai from the chaiwallah is very sweet, so when making it at home you may want to cut back on the sugar a bit. I usually add a generous teaspoon but you could add less or even none at all.
Making Masala Chai at Home
Google ‘masala chai recipe’ and you will also get all manner of different combinations that include everything from star anise to nutmeg to the Indian Bay Leaf (note: English Bay Leaves are not a substitute) and even saffron. So feel free to experiment!
The following are three spice combinations you may like to try. I recommend buying spices from an Indian Grocer. The turnover is higher and therefore the spices are usually fresher. If you don’t have a local Indian Grocer/Supermarket you can order online. Yogiji’s has an Auckland and Christchurch store and you can order online with free shipping on orders over NZ$35.00.
10 green cardamom pods (or I use only 5 if the pods are large. The cardamom pods I buy in India seem to be nearly double the size of the ones I buy in New Zealand)
good pinch of fennel seeds
4 black peppercorns
shard of cinnamon
8-10g of fresh ginger peeled and roughly chopped
Lightly crush/bruise the whole spices in a mortar and pestle. Add to a pot along with the fresh ginger and approximately 300ml of water. Bring to the boil. Add 2 tsp loose tea (or you can add two tea bags) and take off the heat and leave the tea to steep for 5 minutes. Add around 150 ml of milk and sugar to taste (I add one generous teaspoon) and bring back to the boil. Simmer till reduced to approximately two cups or tea is brewed to the desired strength. Strain and serve. Makes 2 medium cups.
If friends are visiting, I keep the spice proportions the same but double the liquid ingredients and the amount of loose leaf tea added.
Alternative method. Put spices, water and milk together in a pot. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15min until the liquid is reduced to approx 2 cups. Add sugar to taste and tea (or two tea bags) and let the tea brew to desired strength. Strain and serve. You have to hang round the stove a bit more with this method and watch the milk doesn’t boil over. If it looks like is going to. Remove from the heat momentarily and lower the temperature a bit before returning the pot to the heat.
An Equal Favourite
5-10 green cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
shard of cinnamon
4 black peppercorns
Brew as above. You can add of reduce the amount of spices to suit your tastes. I often add more pepper after tasting a gorgeous peppery brew from a chaiwallah in Rishikesh.
or if you are not a fan of ginger perhaps try…
1 black cardamom pod
10-15 green cardamom pods
4 black peppercorns
It may take 10 – 15 minutes for your ‘brew’ to be ready but it really is worth the wait!
Natasha leads an annual 11 day small group Women’s Only India: Fabric, Food & Fabulous Tour. This year you have the opportunity to not only enjoy ‘bed tea’ at Dera Mandawa in Jaipur but we will join our hosts to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. For more information about this tour or a unique tailor-made journey to India please contact us.