Masala Chai

Masala Chai: What You Need to Know about India’s Spiced National Beverage

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Updated on January 12, 2024

Reviewed by Asmaa Hashimy

Masala Chai, as iconic in India as Taj Mahal itself.

Tea is by far the world’s most consumed beverage after water. Originally from China, tea took the world by storm and has gained popularity for its exquisite taste, aroma, and even colours. One way that shows such popularity is that tea has become the national beverage of many countries, most of which are in Eastern Asia and the Middle East.

However, because tea is so widely consumed, it has gone through many different changes that made it not only produced and tasting differently but also the word ‘tea’ itself implies different meanings in many counties. For instance, tea refers to the drink made by infusing tea leaves in hot water. This is the original tea, and it comes in five varieties: black tea, oolong tea, yellow tea, green tea, and white tea.

These types are different from one another in terms of taste, aroma, and the manufacturing process. Black tea, for example, is the sweetest, darkest, and longest type to produce. Other types have colours ranging from brown, light brown to yellow, and green—white tea is not white but rather yellow; however, it was called so because it is made from baby tea buds that are covered with white hairs.

Any of these five types are known as unblended tea because they do not have any extra additions, no spices, herbs, or oils. On the other hand, the term ‘herbal tea’ is used to describe drinks made by infusing spices or herbs in hot water. They do not actually contain any tea. But for some reason, these herbal infusions are referred to as tea in the West.

In India, it gets a little different too as tea is not called tea but rather chai. Cha means tea in Chinese. When the Indians imported tea from China, they changed it to chai. Tea was then exported to many other countries carrying the name chai. So theoretically speaking, chai should just mean pure unblended tea. While this is the case in many Middle Eastern countries, Indians just decided to keep the word as is but make it refer to the mixture of tea and milk.

So to recap, tea refers to the actual unblended tea drink. Herbal teas are herbal hot water infusions that have no tea. Chai in the Middle East means unblended tea. At the same time, chai in India refers to tea with milk.

And the latter is what we are exploring today.

Masala Chai

It seems like Indians cannot do without the main ingredients they add to most, if not all, of their recipes: spices. Though it is more common to use spices with savoury dishes, Indians have proven that they work for any type of food or drink. So they added loads and loads of spices, named masala, to their sweetened chai, called it masala chai, and served it as a sweet drink along with biscuits.

Though it sounds bizarre to drink a sweet spiced beverage, at least to me, this one will never disappoint you. The addition of milk and spices to black tea creates a delicious creamy, sweet, spiced mixture. It is perfect for consumption at any time of the day, for it provides the body with energy, thanks to its many nutrients.

So you may think of it as a hot energy drink that does not contain as much sugar or caffeine as a can of Red Bull but still has a good awakening effect.

In fact, Masala chai is so widely consumed across the nation that it has become the national beverage of India. Not only do families make it indoors, but it is old outdoors too. Those who make and sell masala chai on the streets are called chai wallahs.

Benefits of Masala Chai

Masala chai is said to have originated in India thousands of years ago after they imported it from China, and it was mainly consumed for its healing effects.

For thousands of years and up until today, masala chai has been used by almost everyone in India, especially by the elderly. That is because it keeps them healthy and protects them from diseases. Because it contains antioxidants, masala chai is highly beneficial in

  • Reducing the risk of heart diseases.
  • Reducing cholesterol.
  • Regulating blood pressure.
  • Reducing stress.
  • Relaxing the body.
  • Keeping the bones healthy.

Main Ingredients

As mentioned, masala chai has three main ingredients: black tea, spices, and milk.

The black tea used in masala chai is Indian production too, known as Assam tea. It comes from the tea tree, scientifically known as Camellia sinensis, grown in the Assam region in the north-east of India. This is the most famous tea type in India and the one used to make masala chai.

Then, the mixture of spices that is soaked in the tea. This mixture is called masala and it primarily contains cardamom and ginger. Along with these base spices, different amounts of other spices and herbs are added. These include anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom seeds, and peppercorn. Some like to add chilli (what!), coriander rose, mace, or even cumin.

The third ingredient is milk. Indians traditionally use water buffalo milk. Those who like double-sweetened masala chai add condensed milk instead. This gives the masala chai a thicker, richer, and sweeter taste.

Finally, there are the sweeteners. Originally, honey is used but can be replaced with white, brown, or coconut sugars. If none of these is available, syrup will do.

How to make

One interesting thing about masala tea is that it is very flexible and can come in wide varieties.

For instance, the type of black tea used can create a new variety. In India, Assam tea leaves are boiled with milk and spices, giving the chai a strong tea taste. But using any other type of black tea will work too. Even tea bags will provide a good taste. What matters the most is that it should not be blended tea. That means Earl Grey will not work for this recipe.

Secondly, changing the types and quantities of the spices used, without messing up with the primary ones, ginger and green cardamom, can result in a differently-tasting chai every time a change is applied.

Another thing that creates masala chai varieties is how long the spiced chai is cooked and how thick it becomes. Also, the type of sweetener used and whether or not flavours, such as vanilla, are added create different tastes.

In addition, the type of milk used will provide extra different tastes. As mentioned, the traditional recipe includes buffalo milk, but any other kind of milk will do. Vegetarians, for instance, can use almond milk, oat milk, or coconut to enjoy a tasty cup of masala chai.

Even those who are not into milk at all can take it out of the recipe and just replace it with hot water. Though the resultant beverage should not be called chai since it has no milk, it is still considered a masala tea variety.

In this recipe, we are giving you one of those varieties that do not require you to travel to India to buy Assam tea nor to order it online and wait a week until it gets delivered.

Ingredients

The following ingredients are enough to make two cups of masala chai

  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 nutmeg
  • 50 g of ground ginger
  • 5 cloves of black cardamom
  • 15 g of green cardamom
  • 10 g of peppercorn
  • 15 g of clove
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons/tea bags of black tea
  • Honey 

Masala chai is not as quick to make as regular tea, where all you need to do is just infuse tea powder in hot water. But masala chai takes a few steps and up to 20 minutes to make. So if you plan to serve it chai to your guests, make sure you get started before they arrive.

The first thing you need to do is to prepare the spice mixture, masala. Start by adding all the spices to an oven tray and roast them for a minute or two. Once done, blend the spices in a blender and turn them into a powder. Set them aside for now.

Place a cooking pot on medium-low heat. Add one cup of water and bring it to a boil. Add one tablespoon of the spice mixture powder you just prepared and two tablespoons of black tea powder. You can also use two black tea bags. Mix the ingredients with the water and let them boil for a minute.

Add one cup of milk to the tea and stir. Add one tablespoon of white sugar, honey, or any sweetener. Bring the chai to a boil, turn down the heat, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, at maximum. This will make the chai thicker. Once cooked, turn off the heat.

Strain your masala chai and pour it into two cups. Serve hot with biscuits.

Chai Tea Latte

Masala chai has become very popular worldwide, especially in the West. And because the sweet spiced beverage has innumerable varieties made by changing the types of tea, milk, and spices, this flexibility opened the door to the chai tea latte.

Like caffè latte, which is basically espresso mixed with steamed milk, chai latte is black tea with steamed milk. That is another variety of chai that was created in the West. 

But the spiced chai latte is known as chai tea latte. It is made by brewing spices in black tea mixed with steamed milk. Some international coffee houses invented the spiced chai latte, which positioned itself as the Western version of India’s national beverage.

Like the other Western tea and coffee inventions, the chai tea latte is served hot or iced and topped with whipped cream.

And there you have it…

Everything you need to know about India’s spiced national drink, masala chai, and how you can make it.

In this article, we discussed how the terms tea and chai are used in different countries and what they precisely mean in India. Then, we explored the main ingredients of masala chai and how changing their quantities can create another masala variety. 

Finally, we demonstrated the recipe for making the perfect masala chai as well as its Western version, known as chai tea latte.

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