Authentic masala chai recipe with so many different ways to make it. Lots of tips and short cuts even for busy days. This famous beverage from the Indian subcontinent is now yours to enjoy.
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About Masala Chai
From the streets of India to the exquisite dining halls, masala chai is the ultimate beverage of choice. Everyone has their own secret recipe, and this is one thing that the chai wallahs of India manage to rival with the fanciest restaurants.
And so, you too can do it at home, anytime you want. I share lots of ideas and tips to make this so accessible to anyone. So what is masala chai? 'Masala' means spice and 'chai' means tea, hence literally it means spiced tea. Basically black tea brewed with spices, to which milk is added.
You may have heard of 'chai tea' which is actually a redundant term, because chai means tea. However, the chai tea we are familiar with in the US, is a bit more richer, and western in it's presentation and experience. We will make that yet another time.
Ingredients for Masala Chai
You only need four things to make this beverage: tea, spices, milk and sweetener.
Types of Tea
- We need loose tea and that usually comes in three kinds: Black tea, Green tea and White tea. For masala chai we need black tea. In the Indian subcontinent, this comes from 4 regions: Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiris and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
- Assam tea is strong and robust in flavor and is the best choice for a milky tea like masala chai. This tea is often sold in two forms: CTC and dust tea. CTC tea is granular in form and is produced by processing tea leaves through rollers to crush, tear and curl the tea. Dust tea gives a stronger decoction for the same amount of tea used.
- Ideal option for masala chai is CTC black tea from Assam, available at Indian grocery stores and online, from popular brands such as Taj Mahal, PG Tips, Brooke Bond, etc. If a brand sells the tea as red label, yellow label and green label, then red label is the strongest and the best for masala tea.
- The next best option is Nilgiri tea which is of middle grind and not widely available in USA. It produces a strong chai with some floral notes.
- Darjeeling tea is mild in flavor, with prominent fruity and floral notes. Enjoy it as a water-based tea or with lemon juice or mint leaves. A milky chai with Darjeeling tea would be pretty mild. But would be great for a milk-free masala tea.
- The tea from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is also ideal for water-based black tea, because it becomes bitter when steeped or cooked for too long. And masala chai, which is a milk-based tea, is typically simmered for a while to extract the essence of the tea and spices.
- Decaf tea can be used as well.
So look for loose CTC black tea from Assam. If not, use 1 to 2 tea bags of unflavored black tea per cup of chai.
Masala Chai Spices
The most commonly used spices for this chai recipe are cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns and ginger. Additional spices are fennel, star anise, nutmeg, saffron, rose and mint.
There are three ways to spice your chai:
- Single Spice: Brew black tea with single flavors such as crushed cardamom, cinnamon stick, ground saffron or fresh ginger slices. Add milk, simmer, strain and enjoy.
- Simple Mixed Spices: Simmer the black tea with a combination of 2 to 3 spices with compatible flavor profiles, add milk and enjoy. Such as cardamom + cinnamon + cloves; cardamom + saffron; ginger + cardamom; saffron + rose; cinnamon + nutmeg + star anise.
- Special Chai Masala: This is a blend made with several spices and every family, chef and street vendor has their own special creation. In the recipe card below I have a chai masala recipe. Experiment and adjust the spices to your own taste.
Use spices that have a fresh flavor and not from old stock. Crushed whole spices work the best for masala chai.
- Plain Milk: Whole dairy milk is used traditionally, but reduced fat will work as well. Plant based milks are often thin in consistency, so make sure to use the versions that are thick and rich.
- Evaporated milk or Condensed Milk, Half and Half: In north America, it is common to find these milk products being used with tea at Indian parties. They add a richness to masala chai and the first two are shelf stable pantry alternatives.
- Creamers: Although not a typical choice, readymade creamers are an option. If you like to use creamer then checkout this recipe.
Whole milk works the best for a traditional masala chai.
- White or Brown Sugar, Coconut Sugar, Raw Sugar or Turbinado sugar: I personally prefer brown sugars, which are also the traditional choice for masala chai. The molasses add a subtle flavor and especially works great with spice teas.
- Date Syrup or Molasses: When using these and brown sugar, be sure to add them in the end. Because they are acidic, the milk tea might curdle if it is simmered for too long with such sweeteners.
- Honey or Maple Syrup: These are refined sugar alternatives, that still have sugar but come with a few nutrients and subtle flavor.
- Sugar Substitutes: Allulose, monk fruit, stevia, erythritol. These options are especially suitable for diabetics. Research these options on reputable sites and ask your health care provider before choosing.
Try sugars or syrups with molasses for a traditional masala chai taste.
How to Make Masala Chai
**Below is a brief overview. Full recipe is at the end of post.
- Spice it: Heat water with crushed whole spices.
- Brew Tea: Add black tea and steep.
- Milk: Add milk and simmer.
- Sweeten: Use sugar or alternatives to your taste.
- Serve: Strain and enjoy.
Simmer masala tea to get a darker brown, rich hue and flavor. It should be thick, creamy and flavorful. That is 'kadak' masala chai.
How to Serve Chai
- Street Vendors: They first aerate the masala tea by pouring it from a cup to another container, several times until a bit frothy and then fill it in small glasses, but not up to the brim.
- Restaurants and Homes: The elegant way to serve it would be using your best tea cup set. Serve some extra milk and sweeteners. You could even serve the tea decoction and milk separately, for people to add as needed.
- Accompaniments: Be sure to serve some cookies, cake rusk, crispy samosas and snacks on the side.
Try using a milk frother to aerate the chai.
- Milk to Water Ratio: The most common ratio is to use ½ cup milk for ½ cup water. You can use ⅔ cup water with ⅓ cup milk, for a lighter tea. For a richer tea, use more milk, all milk or add some half-half, condensed milk or evaporated milk.
- Bitter Tea: To avoid the tea from becoming bitter, do not boil it too long and don't use too much tea leaves.
- Curdled Tea: Make sure to boil the water with spices and fresh ginger to deactivate any enzymes before adding milk. Also, add sugar or syrups with molasses only in the end to prevent curdling of tea.
More Ways To Enjoy Masala Tea
If you love masala chai and don't have time to make it every day, here are ways to make it in bulk and enjoy it more often.
- Dry Form: Crush some whole spices and have them ready. Combine dust tea + crushed spices + milk powder. Alternatively, combine coarse tea with coarsely ground chai masala. Use these within a week for the best taste.
- Liquid Form: Make a masala tea concentrate (using ¼ to ½ the amount of water) and refrigerate. You could also make ice cubes of it and store in freezer. Use it for hot tea or iced tea. Or prepare a chai syrup and refrigerate.
Make a chai syrup by combining 1 cup of water + 1 cup of sugar + ½ cup tea + chai masala (4x amount from recipe below), bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.
Meal Prep and Storage
Make the tea decoction and refrigerate for up to 3 days ahead. Heat, add milk, sweeten and serve. Refrigerate leftovers for 4 days. It can also be frozen.
Masala Chai Benefits
The benefits of chai would be based on the ingredients chosen.
- Black Tea: It is a lower caffeine alternative to coffee and a great source of antioxidants — mainly polyphenols including catechins, theaflavins and thearubigins, that may promote overall health. Regular consumption of tea may also offer health benefits such as, better gut health, improved cholesterol and decreased blood pressure.
- Milk: It is nutrient rich and provides many health benefits such as support for bone health and maintenance of healthy weight. Milk is a great source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, potassium and vitamin D.
- Spices: These offer a lot of health benefits. Spices are great sources of antioxidants, polyphenols and other health promoting phytonutrients. For more information about each spice, check our post about garam masala.
- Sweetener: If using maple syrup, honey or brown sugars, it may be a slightly better alternative to white sugar. Non-nutritive sweeteners suitable for diabetics are also an option.
Serve Masala Chai With These
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Masala Chai Recipe
Choose a Single Spice, Mixed Spice Combo or Chai Masala
Single Spice (pick one)
Mixed Spices (pick one)
- 1 cardamom pod + 1 inch cinnamon + 1 clove
- 2 cardamom pods + 1 inch ginger sliced
- 2 cardamom pods + 1 pinch ground saffron
- 2 pinches ground saffron + 2 teaspoons rose petals
- 1 inch cinnamon stick + 1 segment star anise + 1 pinch ground nutmeg
Chai Masala (instructions below)
Chai Spice Blend
- Take all the spices in a mortar. Using a pestle, lightly crush into a coarse blend and store in an airtight container. The quantity above is for 4 cups of tea. If using a spice grinder, use the pulse option.
- Choose one of the single spices, mixed spices or 2 teaspoons of crushed chai masala. For first two options, lightly crush spices using a mortar and pestle.
- Take one cup of water in a small saucepan. Add the crushed spices or chai masala and bring it to a boil. Then add loose tea or tea bags and boil couple minutes.Tip: Instead of boiling you can turn off the heat and steep the tea for 10 minutes.
- Add one cup of milk and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the chai is a nice milky brown in color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Stir in sweetener of your choice as per your taste. Strain the masala chai into cups and enjoy.
- Tea: Use loose leaf CTC black tea from Assam. If not, use unflavored black tea bags.
- Spices: Be sure to use spices that have a fresh flavor and not from old stock. Crushed whole spices work the best for masala chai. For finely ground spice blend — add ½ teaspoon to the tea in the end.
- Milk: Whole milk works the best for a traditional milk based masala chai. Half-half, condensed milk, evaporated milk and creamers are other choices.
- Sweetener: All options listed in the blog post. Try sugars or syrups with molasses for a traditional masala chai taste.
- Milk to Water Ratio: The most common ratio is to use ½ cup milk for ½ cup water. You can use ⅔ cup water with ⅓ cup milk, for a lighter tea. For a richer tea, use more milk or only milk.
- Meal Prep: Make the tea decoction and refrigerate for up to 3 days ahead. Heat, add milk, sweeten and serve. Refrigerate leftovers for 4 days. It can also be frozen.
- Check blog post above for more tips, other ways to enjoy chai, benefits, etc.