Indian masala chai - tea brewed with milk, ginger, and crushed spices, a refreshing, anti-inflammatory drink with ayurvedic properties. A much-loved drink with roots that go back to ancient India.
Masala chai is a refreshing tea that is made by brewing tea leaves with crushed whole spices, ginger, and milk. This aromatic brew is pretty much the elixir that keeps me going through the day! I wake up, have my breakfast, and a cup of masala chai to start the day. Very often, I follow this up with another cup in the afternoon. Chai is a drink I honestly cannot do without, on a daily basis!
What is 'masala chai'?
Masala chai essentially is chai leaves (black tea) which is brewed in spices. Masala chai is made by brewing the spices along with grated or crushed ginger, and letting the tea steep just enough to release its flavor. Milk is added, followed by sweeter such as sugar.
The use of whole spices and ginger is what sets this tea apart. The use of spices in a herbal decoction has its origins in Ayurveda. The spices are known to have anti-inflammatory and immunity -building properties. My recipe for ginger lemon tea also uses ingredients based on Ayurvedic principles, to build immunity.
The combination of spices used can vary from recipe to recipe, but I love to use the following spices: Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, peppercorns. The beauty of the recipe is that you can play around with spices and add more or less or each. Or make your own variation of this basic recipe, by adding ingredients such as lemongrass or star anise, etc.
What is the difference between chai and masala chai?
Masala chai should not be confused with 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.
How to choose tea leaves for 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.
List of Ingredients
To make masala chai, we will need the following ingredients:
Black tea leaves – Preferably use long leafed, loose, Assam variety of tea leaves
Milk – Use any dairy or non-dairy milk of your choice
Sweetener – This is optional. I usually skip sugar, but you can add sugar, or any sweetener of your choice
Ginger – Use fresh ginger root, grated or crushed
Whole spices – Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, peppercorns. You can also add lemon grass, star anise or nutmeg. To release the flavors, gently pound the spices with a mortar and pestle before adding them to the boiling water.
Making masala chai is a simple technique, 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.
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:
- 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 is boiling, add the tea leaves, and let it cook for 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.
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