About this recipe
"Masala Chai" literally translates to spiced tea. This soothing and refreshing Indian-style tea is made by boiling black tea, milk, water, and an aromatic blend of whole spices. This is the most common drink in every Indian family and drinking tea is a daily ritual in the Indian culture, be it summer or winter. Most Indians enjoy chai with breakfast and evening snacks, and some even drink it several times throughout the day.
Tea made in the Indian subcontinent is mildly infused with spices. The spices used and the milk-water ratio is varied from state to state in India and every Indian household has its own favorite blend. The word chai means tea and originates from India. Authentic masala chai tea is spiced tea made with black tea (Assam tea) and whole spices. It is popular in the US as chai tea latte (which actually means tea tea latte!)
Also called chaa or chaha, it is widely sold at roadside tea stalls and the tea tastes different in each tea stall. The "chaiwallahs" (street vendors) carefully select their own blend of spices and brands of tea they use.
The recipe here is our family favorite and I use very basic spices to make our Indian masala tea. You may vary the spices as per your preference and liking. My favorite combination of spices is cinnamon, cardamom, clove, black pepper, fennel seeds, and fresh ginger. All of these spices come with a range of benefits.
Strong, sweet, mildly spiced chai is a great way to refresh your mind. Invigorating and relaxing at the same time! Read on to know more about the tea used and the ingredients and full instructions for this authentic masala chai recipe. Also, check out this recipe to make authentic South Indian filter coffee.
What tea leaves to use
Chai is made using black tea. There are several popular brands of Indian tea and you can easily find them at any Indian grocery store, supermarket, or online store.
There are three main regions in India that grow tea - Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri. The tea from each region varies in terms of strength and flavor, both of which change due to weather conditions, soil, etc.
Assam tea is the most common variety that is used across India. It is popular due to the deep color and flavor it induces in the tea. This is your go-to tea if you love a kadak chai (strong cup of tea) or are new to making Indian tea.
Darjeeling tea has a milder fruity taste. It is best enjoyed without the addition of milk or with minimal milk. Nilgiri tea does not have any astringency so it can be simmered for a long time, without making the tea bitter. If you like a more milky tea that has been simmered for a long time and reduced, use Nilgiri.
Milk: Whole milk works best, however, you can use skim milk too.
Black tea: Assam tea is the most common variety. There are several brands of Indian tea that are easily available in any Indian grocery store or online store. My preferred brands are Tata tea and Taj Mahal.
Spices: The spices I use are green cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, clove, fennel seeds, and black peppercorns. I also use fresh ginger.
Sweetener: Sugar is the most common sweetener used. I like to use raw sugar in my tea. You can also use jaggery, white sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup.
In a mortar pestle, add fresh ginger root and spices (cinnamon, green cardamoms, clove, fennel seeds, and black pepper). Crush them lightly to make the spice mixture (steps 1 and 2).
Boil water in a saucepan. Add the crushed spices and bring them to a boil. Let it simmer for 5 minutes on medium-high heat (steps 3 and 4).
Add sugar and black tea leaves. Let the tea steep for 4-5 minutes on low heat (steps 5 and 6).
Add milk and bring to a boil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes on medium heat (steps 7 and 8). Keep an eye on it and simmer until it reaches your desired color.
Turn off the heat. Strain the tea by passing it through a sieve or tea strainer (steps 9 and 10).
The perfect cup of Indian masala chai is ready to be served.
Pulling the masala chai / Aerating the tea
"Pulling" tea is a common technique used to aerate the tea and is done by all chaiwallahs in India. It is really simple to pull the chai and this process helps break down the layer of milk fat that settles on the top once the tea is done.
To pull the tea, pour some of the tea into a small saucepan or mug/jug with a handle. Pour it back into the pot in a slow stream from a height of one to two feet. Repeat the process of pouring the tea back and forth 5-6 times until there is a foamy head on the top.
Alternatively, you can also pull the tea using a ladle while it is still in the saucepan. Once it is brewed and you turn off the heat, use a ladle to take some tea and pour it back in a slow stream into the saucepan from a height of one to two feet. Repeat the process several times.
Most chai wallahs do this before straining the tea; however, I personally prefer to strain the tea first before aerating it. This way, I can keep the froth that is developed during pulling intact.
Use whole spices that are crushed lightly for best results. The ground spices will not strain fully. Whole spice blend can be strained easily and they also give a perfectly balanced flavor to the tea.
Some recipes call for making chai masala powder where the spices are ground into a fine powder using a spice grinder and the tea masala is stored in an airtight container. However, for the best flavor, use freshly crushed fragrant spices.
Use whole milk to make milk tea as the fat in it gives richness to the tea.
Pull your tea before serving. I prefer to strain the tea first and then pull it which helps preserve the foamy head that is formed during pulling. See the above section for the process of pulling tea.
Adjust the chai spices as per your liking. Similarly, adjust the water-to-milk ratio too. Some like to make their tea with a 1:1 ratio and some even make it with just milk (without adding any water). My preferred ratio is 2:1 (2 cups of water for every cup of milk).
Use Indian brands of black loose leaf tea and not tea bags. All Indian stores sell many brands of loose Assam tea which is perfect for masala chai.
Skip the spices and use just ginger to make adrak chai (ginger tea). If you have access to Tulasi (holy basil), crush and add a few leaves along with other spices to increase the health benefits of tea.
To make vegan chai, replace regular milk with plant-based milk. Oat milk, coconut milk, soy milk, and almond milk work well. It is important not to boil the tea after adding plant-based milk as the tea may curdle. Steep the tea first in water and then add the vegan milk. Turn off the heat, cover it, and let the vegan masala chai steep for a few more minutes.
Want to enjoy chai in a jiffy? Make and store some chai concentrate and brew a cup of delicious chai latte in less than 2 minutes.
I use cinnamon, cardamom, clove, black pepper, and fennel seeds. There is no specific list of spices used. The use of spices depends on your personal preference and varies in all Indian homes. Other aromatic spices and herbs like star anise, holy basil, and rose petals are also commonly used.
Using a lot of tea leaves or simmering it for too long can make the tea bitter.
It may curdle if you do not boil fresh/root ginger in water before adding the milk. Fresh or root ginger is one of the most common ingredients used and it is really important to boil it in water first to remove the enzymes. Add milk only after this step.
This masala chai is:
- very easy to make,
- easily adjustable as per your preference,
- healthy and delicious.
Masala Chai / Indian Spiced Tea
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup milk
- 2 teaspoon sugar or as per taste
- 3 teaspoon black tea (I use Assam tea)
- 1 inch ginger
- ½ inch cinnamon
- 1 clove
- 4 pods cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- In a mortar pestle, add ginger and spices (cinnamon, cardamom, clove, fennel seeds, and black pepper). Crush them lightly and set them aside.
- Boil water in a saucepan. Add the crushed spice mix. Let it simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add sugar and tea powder. Let the tea steep for 4-5 minutes. Do not simmer for a long time as this could make the tea bitter.
- Add milk and bring to boil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until it reaches the desired color.
- Strain the tea by passing it through a sieve.
- Pull the tea by pouring it back and forth in a slow stream (see the tips section above).
- Serve hot.