Masala Chai is a tea beverage of Indian origin. It is prepared by boiling black tea in a mixture of milk and water, in addition to herbs and spices. The word Chai, is of Hindi descent, derived from the original Chinese word for tea. Masala Chai has quite an interesting origin story. The story tells of how an Indian King thousands of years ago, created the Masala Chai to serve as an Ayurvedic beverage. An Ayurvedic remedy beverage is essentially a blend of herbs and spices which is drunk for healing purposes.
Today, the Masala Chai has now become popular around the world, with most coffee houses in the west making various versions of it. As early as 1994, Masala Chai had found its way into the United States, with many calling it Chai tea latte or Chai latte. These variants are made with steamed milk and mixed with spiced tea concentrates.
The Masala Chai Recipe
As already hinted earlier, Masala Chai has become a permanent fixture in coffee houses across Europe and America. Because of this, there can hardly be a generally acceptable recipe for Masala Chai today. However, the basic ingredient for this Indian beverage remains pretty much the same. They include:
- Assam, Darjeeling or Nilgiri black tea
- Warming spices and spice mixtures (Karha)
- Ground ginger
- Green cardamom pods
- Star anise
- Fennel seeds
- Ginger root
- Water Buffalo milk
For the spice mixture, cinnamon and ginger are traditionally the dominant spices, while the others are used as supplements. Allspice is often used as an alternative to cinnamon and clove in the western world. For the milk, Water Buffalo milk is the traditional and most preferred. However, there are coffee houses who prefer to use sweetened condensed milk to double the sweetener in their Masala Chai while those who don't use milk at all, replace it with water.
How Masala Chai is Prepared
There are two ways the Masala Chai tea can be prepared. They are explained below:
The traditional method of making Masala Chai is the decoction method. This is achieved by boiling or simmering a mix of milk and water, with sweeteners, loose leaf tea and whole spices. These spices, called Chai Masala, can be found in Indian markets anywhere in the world. However, households and tea vendors in India blend their own spices.
- Boil the water. 1 cup of water is perfect for 2 servings of Chai.
- Add the Masala first. Starting with the spices is better because the tea might become bitter if you add it first.
- The first spice to add is ginger. Your ginger must be nicely cooked before the addition of milk to prevent it from curdling.
- After ginger, throw in some cardamom. Crush the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle before adding it to the mix.
- After these two main ingredients are in the pot, you can now add the other spices such as black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, star anise etc.
- Next add the black tea, or if you prefer, Darjeeling tea.
- Allow this blend to simmer and boil into a fine decoction.
- Add sugar according to your preference.
- Next, you can add milk and let the whole thing boil. Ideally, it's better to give it enough time to boil to achieve the perfect blend.
- Your Masala Chai is ready. Using a strainer, strain the Chai into your cups.
The Masala Chai Powder Method (Chai Wallah)
If you consume Masala Chai regularly, then this method is best for you. It involves making a powdered version of the Masala spices in large quantities and storing them in a jar.
Once this is done, you can add the spices into your boiling water and allow it to simmer. Then add the tea and milk and boil to taste. It can be served hot or warm.