Masala Chai is one of my favorite beverages. It’s in every coffee shop, but the homemade stuff is a game changer. Warm, spiced, and comforting. As the weather cools down is a must-have. I have a lot to say on chai, so I’ve split it into two main sections. Ingredients, and technique. This one is a long post so feel free to skip down to the recipe. It’s a good recipe to get you started on your masala chai journey.
Quick side note. Chai means tea while masala chai is a style of tea. Basically, there’s no need to call masala chai, Chai tea, since chai is tea.
If you don’t like all the talking you can skip to the printable recipe card bellow
Masala Chai Ingredients
Milk makes up just about all of your masala chai. It’s usually made with cow’s milk, but that’s not the only one. In India chai will be made with buffalo milk too. Goat milk isn’t a stranger either. I haven’t had buffalo milk, but I have it on my bucket list. Choosing something with good fat content is ideal here. One of the best parts about chai is its creaminess. Some non-dairy alternatives still have great texture but will lack the richness of cow’s milk. Mouth feel is a big component but can be sacrificed for the low-fat and non-dairy crowd. Oat milk is my masala chai milk of choice. The flavor works with spices and has a great texture. When going the non-dairy route I’d suggest finding a barista blend. Some milk alternatives will separate when heated, but barista bends are designed not. If you don’t mind the separation this isn’t too much of a big deal.
Masala Chai Spices
when it comes to masala chai there are NO right or wrongs for your spice blends. There are lots of combinations from just cardamom to 15 different spices. Each spice brings a different feeling to the table. Some are earthy and spicy, While others are light and floral. Finding a mix that works best for you can be a fun journey. After a while, you can go beyond the recipes and find the blend to match the mood. Deep and earthy for a cozy evening, floral and sweet on an afternoon, or something medicinal when you feel ill. I used a base spice blend for a while, but now I just vibe check and execute. Here are a few other spices I love to use.
- star anise
- juniper berries
- cumin seed
Tea leaves are yet another component of our chai. Assam is usually my go too. Sticking in the Indian realm: Cyleon, Dargling, and Nilgiri are all great choices here. Lately, I’ve been using keamun, a Chinese black tea with great results. You don’t have to trip too much about it though. Loose leaf or bagged, use whatever you can get your hands on. Sometimes ill use rooibos or any other herbal tea for a non-caffeinated masala chai. It’s the last thing to go in but plays such a nice role. It’s kind of like the glue holding everything together. It’s great without but once it’s there everything comes together.
Sugar in masala chai is a small detail that helps fine-tune it to your taste. white sugar in chai is ok. It does the job but there are more interesting options. Brown sugar, honey, and maple syrup are all great options. For a while, I used brown sugar, but Recently maple syrup is my go-to. It has light woodiness that pairs great with cardamom. Going beyond that there are loads of unrefined sugars on the market. I love a little bit of complexity in my sweeteners. Muscavado, agave, coconut, and turbandado are all tasty. The more you fall into the masala rabbit whole, you may start pairing your sweeteners with a spice blend, and tea.
Masala Chai Technique
controlling your temperature is key for chai. Too hot and you’ll extract way too much from the spices. That brings astringency to the cup. This is even more prevalent when you toast the spices first or grind them very fine. Too cold and the chai will miss all the spicy goodness. A thermometer will help with temperature control but, that’s way too extra for me. I shoot for a light simmer and avoid rolling boils. 5 minutes and we pull some good spice flavors without over-reducing the milk. Adding the tea leaves last is also important. we don’t want to boil the tea. That too brings out intense and bitter tannin flavors. The masala chai is still hot but will slowly cool down while the tea steeps. Working with the temperature is just a complex game of extracting flavors from spices and tea. That also leads us to the next point.
Spice grind size also plays a role here. I typically air on the coarser side. Especially for large spices like cinnamon and star anise. The oils are still intact, and they Shouldn’t be too stale. The finer the spices the more astringency that’s pulled out. Using whole spices also brings a fresher cup as opposed to pre-ground. It’s doable but the masala chai tastes stale and bitter. Pre-ground spices lose a lot of their flavor over time. I’ve made masala chai with it several times. It’s doable but not great,
The last technical thing is the cherry on top. Pulling is just pouring a liquid from one vessel to another. This aerates the chai, Introducing oxygen. It seems extra but trust me, it makes a difference. The added oxygen makes our chai a little more aromatic and boosts flavor perception. It’s a difference between ok and great chai. The added air also brings in a nice mouth feel. A little extra texture and foam on top. It’s the last step in chai but it’s a significant one. It’s not detrimental though. I mainly do this when I want to treat myself. It makes masala chai a little more of a slow ritual.
Well if you’ve made it this far I applaud you. Thanks for listening to my rambling of masala chai. It’s one of my favorite beverages to make. I had a lot to say but now it’s time to close it up. Go out and make some chai at home. It’ll change your thoughts in the bevy if you haven’t had the homemade version.
- 1C Milk
- 14 pods (3/4 tsp seeds) Cardamom
- 10 (1/4 tsp) Black Pepper corn
- ½ (2g) Cinnamon stick
- 20 seeds (1/4 tsp Coriander seeds
- (1/8 tsp) Grated nutmeg
- With a mortar and pestle mash black pepper, coriander, and cardamom to a coarse grind. Add the star anise and cinnamon. mash the two until they are broken up just a bit. Grate the nutmeg into the mix.
- Add the milk to a small pan and stir in the spices. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a light simmer.
- Simmer the milk and spices for 5minutess then turn the heat off. Add the tea and allow it to steep for 3 more minutes.
- Stir in the maple syrup then strain the tea into a small pitch. Fan the tea back and forward between two small pitchers or the pot, then pour into your favorite mug.