Masala Chai मसालेदार चाय

A glass of masala chai with a spoon and jaggery cubes on a serving dish, placed on a table with a deep red tablecloth and greenery in the background.

Masala chai मसालेदार चाय served with jaggery cubes.

“Chai” चाय means “tea” in Hindi and “masala chai” मसालेदार चाय means “spiced tea”.

The type of tea used is a critical determinant of the chai’s end result. Typically, when making chai with black tea, a specific type of Assam black tea called “mamri” is used. Mamri tea (known in the industry as CTC i.e., “crush, tear, curl”) is granular (as opposed to “leaf tea”) and is a strong bodied variety of tea that has the strength and depth to hold its flavor against the spices and sweeteners.

Traditionally, fresh buffalo milk (milk taken from the buffalo the same day the chai is made) and jaggery (an unrefined cane sugar known as “gur” गुड़ in Hindi) was used to make chai. Buffalo milk offers an unparalleled richness (buffalo milk is richer than cow’s milk) and the jaggery contributes a distinct flavor which results in a chai that tastes considerably different from the modern day chais made with half-and-half/reconstituted milk/UHT milk/skimmed milk and refined sugar/artificial sweeteners. It is also noteworthy that the buffalo milk traditionally used was whole buffalo milk – that is milk, cream and all.

There are no fixed recipes for masala chai and the combination of spices traditionally used varies by region and climactic conditions. For instance, ginger is considered to generate “warmth” and so it is sometimes left out on hot days but is favored on cold and wintery days or when the chai drinker is down with a common cold. Chais made in northern India are likely to contain fennel (known as “saunf” सौंफ़ in Hindi) and no peppercorns while chais from the south often have peppercorns and no fennel.

Use only the freshest spices as spices lose their flavor and aroma with age. Ideally, crush or grind the spices just before making the chai.

Adjust the quantity of jaggery to your taste. Some Indians use no sweeteners at all for their chais while chaiwallahs usually add a generous amount. The milk may curdle when boiled together with jaggery. If curdled milk is not your cup of tea, then crush the jaggery into a powder and add to the chai just before serving. Alternatively, serve the masala chai with jaggery cubes.

This recipe tries to stay true to the authentic and traditional method of making masala chai, from using jaggery as a sweetener (instead of sugar) and fresh whole spices which are ground in a pestle and mortar.

 

Version 1:

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup full fat buffalo milk
  • ½ cup spring water
  • Jaggery as desired
  • 1 tsp black tea leaves
  • 1/5 – ¼ tsp peppercorns
  • 1/5 – ¼ tsp fresh ginger – grated
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 tiny clove
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

 

Method:

Place the spices (peppercorns, cardamoms, cinnamon and clove) in a pestle and mortar and crush to a coarse mixture.

Combine all ingredients except jaggery in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring every once in a while.

Optional: as you make the chai, using a ladle, scoop some chai and pour it back down holding the ladle as high up as you can to generate some froth on the surface of the chai. This helps to combine the ingredients and is common practice among some chaiwallahs in India.

As the mixture comes to a boil and bubbles appear on the sides of the pan, stir more frequently, scraping the bottom and the sides of the pan to prevent the milk from scalding.

As the mixture boils, it will change to a rich and deeper hue and foam will begin to rise. Be careful it could spill over. Take off the heat and give a good, thorough stir.

Put back on the heat and bring the mixture to a boil again.

Stop the heat and stir well.

Allow to steep for a few minutes.

Strain and add crushed jaggery as desired or serve accompanied with cubes of jaggery.

 

Version 2:

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup spring water
  • ½ cup full fat buffalo milk
  • 1 clove
  • 1-2 green cardamom pods
  • ½ inch stick cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp grated ginger (optional)
  • Pinch fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp black tea leaves
  • Jaggery as desired

 

Method:

Place the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar and crush to a coarse mixture.

Pour the water to a cast iron or stainless steel saucepan along with the crushed spices and grated ginger.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a low boil. The longer the mixture boils the more robust the spice flavor.

Once boiled to your liking, add tea leaves.

Bring to a boil. The longer the mixture boils the stronger the flavors of tea and spices don’t over boil as doing so could make the tea taste bitter.

Add the milk and bring a boil. Stir every now and then. Using a ladle, scoop some chai and then pour it back down holding the ladle as high up as you can to generate some froth on the surface of the chai.

Stop flame.

Allow the chai to steep a few minutes.

Strain to a cup.

Stir in crushed jaggery as desired and serve.

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