Masala Chai or Indian 'Karak Chai' is an aromatic and refreshing drink made with long black tea leaves brewed with milk, ginger, and a blend of chai masala spices. It is a refreshing, anti-inflammatory drink with ayurvedic properties.
(This recipe was first published in July 2020 and has been updated)
Masala chai, aka Karak Chai or Kadak Chai is an aromatic brew made by brewing tea leaves with crushed whole spices aka, chai masala, ginger, and milk. The Chai (tea) leaves are simmered just enough for them to release their flavor. The drink is a refreshing, hot tea - a daily morning ritual for many people (me included!).
Masala Chai is often called Chai Tea or Chai Tea Latte - which is a misnomer, as 'Chai' translates to 'Tea'. The authentic name of this drink is simply 'Chai'! Masala refers to the chai spices that are added to the tea while brewing - it is usually a blend of whole spices that are lightly pounded and added to spice up the tea.
The use of whole spices and ginger is what sets this masala tea apart. The masala chai spice mix has its origins in Ayurveda. The chai spices are known to have anti-inflammatory and immunity-building properties. My recipe for ginger lemon tea also uses spices that are based on Ayurvedic principles, and it helps to build immunity.
My Chai Masala recipe uses a combination of whole spices: cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, peppercorns. This 'Masala' for Chai can be customized if you like - you can make your Chai Masala blend by adding ingredients such as star anise and even crushed lemongrass in addition to the basic whole spices that go into this recipe.
Why this recipe works
- Many health benefts - Masala Chai has Ayurvedic, anti-inflammatory properties and is actually good for your health!
- This recipe is made with whole spices, and not masala chai tea bags, making it flavorful and refreshing
List of Ingredients
To make masala chai, you will need:
Black tea leaves – Preferably use long leafed, loose, Assam variety of tea leaves. My favorite brands of Indian tea to make chai are Tata Tea Gold, Red Label and Taj Mahal (get them at your local Indian store, or order online via Amazon).
Milk – Use any dairy or non-dairy milk of your choice. I like to use full-fat milk, but skimmed milk is fine as well.
Sweetener – This is optional. I usually skip the sugar for my daily cup of karak chai, but you can add sugar or any sweetener of your choice
Ginger – Use fresh ginger root, grated or crushed using a mortar and pestle
For the Chai Masala – Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, peppercorns. You can also add lemongrass, star anise, or nutmeg as well. To release the flavors, gently pound the spices with a mortar and pestle before adding them to the boiling water.
Lemongrass - Lightly crush the lemongrass with a mortar and pestle and add it along with the crushed ginger.
Star Anise - Can be added with the rest of the whole spices to be pounded
Nutmeg - Add a pinch of grated nutmeg along with the pounded whole spices
It isn't difficult to make masala chai - however, it can easily be ruined by overcooking the tea leaves, and making the chai bitter. Follow these simple steps to make that perfect cup of masala chai!
To a saucepan on the stove, add water and turn on the heat. As it is heating, add the grated or crushed ginger, and the lightly pounded whole spices. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the tea leaves.
Let the tea leaves cook for just a minute. Overcooking the tea will make the tea leaves release their tannins and make the chai bitter. You want the tea leaves to just steep enough to release their flavors.
Add the milk, sugar (optional) and let this cook for a minute more. Then turn off the heat and let the chai sit for 3-4 minutes. Using a mesh strainer, strain the chai and serve hot. Your Masala Chai is ready!
How to make Masala for Chai
You can make a small batch of Chai Masala and store it in an air-tight container for up to a month. This is super convenient for frequent Chai drinkers, as you don't have to pound the fresh masala for chai every day.
To make chai masala, simply add 3 tbsp each of Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Fennel, Peppercorns in a spice grinder or blender. Blend until you have a coarse spice mix (powder doesn't have to be fine). Store in an airtight container for a month and use as needed.
To make Masala Chai with this Chai Masala spice mix, simply boil water with crushed fresh ginger, and 1 tsp of the spice mix. Add tea leaves, milk, and sugar and simmer for 1 minute, then turn off heat, and strain, and pour into glasses to serve hot.
Expert Tips & Troubleshooting
Don't let the tea leaves boil too much in the water - Tea can become bitter if you let the tea leaves boil in the water. Add the tea leaves to the boiling water and lower the heat. Let the leaves simmer for a minute, and add milk and sugar. Boiling the tea leaves for too long will release some of its tannins, which can make the tea bitter.
Use whole spices, not store-bought spice mix - It can be tempting to use a store-bought masala chai spice mix or prepackaged masala chai powder, but I highly recommend using whole spices - using whole spices will make the chai more flavorful and will make a huge difference to the taste.
Use good quality tea leaves - I love my loose-leaf Assam tea for making the perfect cup of masala chai. I like the Taj Mahal and Tata Tea Gold brands. You can also use chai tea bags, but the taste will not be as good.
Water to milk ratio - This is completely up to your taste preference. For this recipe, I have used 2+1/4 cup water to 1/2 cup milk. I like my chai strong and not very milky, however, If you like your chai with more milk, you can certainly add more.
Make Vegan Masala Chai - To make this chai vegan, substitute dairy milk with your choice of non-dairy barista-style vegan milk. Oat milk or almond milk are good substitutes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Chai is made by brewing long leaf black tea leaves (usually Assam variety of tea leaves) with water and milk. Often, chai is flavored with whole spices and sweetened with sugar.
Masala chai should not be confused with a chai latte, which is an adaptation of chai - which has more milk and lesser spices. Masala chai is stronger in flavor compared to the milder chai latte. A chai latte usually uses frothy steamed milk to replicate the feel of a latte with some of the flavors of masala chai.
For Masala Chai, I recommend using tea leaves such as Assam tea, which has a deep, strong flavor. Darjeeling tea or Nilgiri tea leaves – which are some popular Indian tea varieties - have a milder flavor. I prefer to buy Indian brands of loose-leaf tea, but you could also use teabags as well. All Indian stores will stock well-known brands of loose Assam-origin tea.
Yes! There are several health benefits of drinking masala chai regularly - it is said to improve metabolism and digestion, is good for gut health and immunity. Drinking three or more cups of black tea per day is also said to lower the risk of heart disease.
Chai is best accompanied by some Indian snacks, a common evening ritual in many Indian households. Try these popular recipes to go with your evening cup of masala chai:
Masala Chai Recipe
- 2¼ cups water
- ½ inch ginger use fresh ginger root
- 2-3 whole green cardamom
- 3-4 black peppercorns
- 2-3 cloves
- ½ inch cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon black tea leaves Preferably Assam tea
- 2 teaspoon sugar optional
- ½ cup milk
- In a saucepan, add the water. Heat on the stovetop.
- Grate the ginger or pound it using a mortar and pestle. Add to the water that is being heated.
- Gently pound the whole spices (cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, fennel seeds) and add them to the water.
- Let the water come to a boil.
- Once the water starts boiling, lower the heat and add the tea leaves. Let it simmer or 1 minute.
- Lower the heat, add the milk and sugar, and let it simmer for 1 more minutes .
- Turn off the heat and let the chai sit for 3-4 minutes.
- To serve, strain the chai using a mesh strainer. Serve hot.