Traditional Masala Chai Tea
Chai, a word for tea in numerous languages, derived from Mandarin Chinese chá, and masala, the Hindi word for spice. This recipe would be considered masala chai because it has four of the basic ingredients you must have to make it traditional: milk (in this case we’re using coconut milk), sugar, cardamom and ginger. Different varieties of the recipe can be found based on the region and climate that the tea is grown in, creating subtle enhancements and character flavors.
Many of the ingredients found in traditional masala chai recipes are useful for treating conditions such as colds, flu, stomach ailments, digestive problems, lung issues and other common seasonal afflictions.
Many years ago I worked in a Nepali restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. Every day that I was scheduled to come into work I would start my shift by having a cup of warm spiced milk (essentially chai) usually followed by a meal that was incredibly spicy (I can’t overstate this). During that time I honestly don’t remember being sick, not even once in that Minnesota winter.
One of my favorite things that the chefs would do at the restaurant, was to add black peppercorns to pretty much every sweet dish that they created. Ever since then I’ve been obsessed with the idea of adding black pepper to all of the desserts/sweet dishes that I make as a result!
There is just something magical about sweet and spicy flavors together…
3 Liters of water (12 cups)
13 1/2 ounces of coconut milk (one can- you can use whole milk if you like too, or any type of milk substitute that you prefer. I happen to like coconut milk because it is very creamy like real milk)
5 cinnamon sticks
2 whole nutmeg seeds
1 star aniseed
10 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon of whole clove
10 black peppercorns
6 allspice berries
1/3 cup (A heaping cup) of medium chopped fresh ginger
1/3-2/3 cups of natural raw cane turbinado sugar (optional, if you are minimizing sugar intake this recipe will still be delicious at 1/4 cup or do without the sugar all together if need be)
2 tablespoons of Assam black tea
1 tablespoon of Lapsang Souchong black tea
- In a 6 or 8 quart pot, bring water and coconut milk to a rolling boil
- Place small spices such as clove, peppercorn and allspice into a cheesecloth, bundle and tie it closed with a thin strip of the cheesecloth & place it into the boiling pot.
- Add the larger loose spices into the boiling pot such as cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, star aniseed and cardamom. Continue to boil for about 10 minutes.
- place the black tea mixture into a cheesecloth bundle and tie it shut. Place it into the pot and continue to boil the chai for another 10 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to a medium heat and add in the sugar. Stir for about two minutes.
- Turn off the heat and remove the spice/tea pouches. Strain chai into a thermos to keep it warm or let it cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. Chai can be steamed or warmed in a crockpot. For an adult version try adding a spiced rum and an orange peel twist! Chai can also be used to flavor yogurt, homemade whipped cream’s, cookie dough, Chia seed putting, and can be used as a warm, spicy & creamy topping for oatmeal or granola. Some people like to add a shot of espresso to their chai tea, but in my opinion the black tea is plenty caffeine for one cup. There are so many great ways to incorporate chai tea into other recipes beyond the drink. However, the drink stands alone as incredibly delicious!
Serves: 8 to 10 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20-30 minutes (although most of the traditional recipes that I’ve read about, the masala chai is cooked for many, many hours at a rolling boil).
One of the things I love most about the Eastern energetics of food, is the importance or emphasis on our surroundings and company we keep while we prepare our food and enjoy it. Laughter at the end of a meal helps promote and stimulate digestion as one example. In the case of the traditional chai tea recipe, I find it inspiring to appreciate Indian culture and imagine the Great Grandmother who handed down the recipe to her daughter as it spanned across many generations of Grand Mothers, Mothers and Daughters. This type of energy and nostalgia bonds the energy of the food to the energy of our thoughts as we prepare our meals, and adds another poetic layer of meaning to the “gut-brain connection”. Traditional masala chai spices help increase Qi circulation, warm the body and support healthy lung function. Both ginger and cinnamon are expectorants and help remove Toxins. Ginger is excellent for digestion as well. In addition to supporting healthy lung function cardamom also supports the stomach, spleen, lung and liver. In Chinese medicine most culinary spices Tonify Yang (The fire of the body that keeps us warm and provides heat for all of the body’s functions). Aniseed, cardamom, clove and black pepper all promote healthy kidney function. In the case of cinnamon, ginger and black pepper, they promote healthy heart and uterine function.
Black tea is neutral in temperature, bitter and sweet in flavor, and promotes healthy functioning of the heart, stomach, lung, large intestine, bladder and liver. It is also said to resolve Phlegm, drains water, promotes Qi circulation and removes Toxins.
Botanical intelligence (Prana or Qi) is what communicates to our cellular intelligence how to go about healing itself.
Interesting facts, history & legend around masala chai tea & tea in general:
Traditionally in India water buffalo milk is used in Masala Chai. Sipping Chai has become a morning routine in places such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
You can find a “chai Wallah” (tea maker/vendor) on virtually every street corner bustling with people in busy business districts (something I hope to experience first hand someday). A chai wallah will also deliver hot tea to businesses.
It is said that “the same way a New York cab driver might be able to tell the story of the city through their interactions with customers, a chai wallah can tell the story of India and all its complexity”.
Two different kinds of masala chai were often prepared until the 1830s: milk brewed with spices in mainland India and spice tea Liquor in the Northeast. A change occurred in 1833, when the British lost the tea market in China and turned to India. Premium quality tea was, in fact, the “other gold that Britain took away from India” (referring to both tea & opium).
According to an ancient legend, tea was discovered by Bodhidharma (c. A.D. 460-534), The wandering, devout Buddhist monk born near the modern southern Indian city of Chennai (Madras) who founded the Zen (or Ch’an) School of Buddhism. In the fifth year of a seven-year sleepless contemplation of Buddha, he began to feel drowsy. To keep from falling asleep, he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground. In the spot where they landed, tea bushes grew. The less harsh version of the story says that during the fifth of the seventh year, sleepless promotion of Buddhism around China Bodhidharma began to feel drowsy. From a nearby tree he plucked a few leaves and chewed them, and his tiredness disappeared. The bush was wild tea.
The history of tea predates Bodhidharma. It goes back 2500 years to the mountains of Yunnan, in Southwest China, where it was initially blended with herbs, seeds and forest leaves.
In the 1920s, world exports of tea were around 310,000 metric tons per annum, of this 75% came from British plantations in India and Ceylon and 9% from Dutch producers in the Netherlands East Indies. During this time, the United Kingdom absorbed 60% of total world tea exports.
Tea requires a moderately hot and humid climate. Climate influences yield, crop distribution and quality. Therefore, before cultivating tea in a new area, the sustainability of the climate is the first point to be considered. Tea grows best on well-drained fertile acid soil on high lands.
Leggett, Daverick. Helping ourselves. A guide to traditional Chinese food energetic. Meridian press. Totnes, England. 2014.
Koehler, Jeff. Darjeeling. The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea. Journey from the East. Chapter 2. Page 17. Bloomsburg. NYC, New York. 2015.
Rosen, Diana. Chai: the spice tea of India. Pownal. Vermont. Storey, 1999.
All Recipe photos: Kelsey Crawford-McIntosh, for Go Forth Culture dot com traditional masala chai tea recipe
chai wallahs of India dot com
Swarajyamag dot com
Chai Pilgrimage dot com / pages / spices
Inttea dot com / itc- history ~ International Tea Committee
Toklai dot net ~ Tea Research Association
*Go Forth Culture is experiencing a temporary error with direct site links, hence reference websites spelled out… Should be fixed soon. Thank you for your patience!