Masala chai; the Ayurveda masterpiece
Masala chai or just “chai” as it is often known outside of India, is a beverage made from black tea, milk and various herbs and spices. This beverage has been known since ancient times and was originally consumed as a health tonic. Let’s take a look at this exquisite Ayurveda drink and see how we can make one at home, too!
While the real historical origins are steeped in myth, the generally accepted story involves a benevolent and wise king who devised a health tonic for his subjects using the art of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the ancient Indic art of health and well being. Deeply tied to Hinduism and spirituality, Ayurveda also involves dietary and lifestyle changes to better harmonize the body’s constitution. When the legendary king was selecting ingredients for his cure-all he chose very carefully from the Ayurveda catalogue of spices and herbs. Over time and with contact with the British who had their own unique tea culture, masala chai developed into the spiced milk tea beverage we all know and love today.
As mentioned above the ingredients in masala chai play a special role in promoting a healthy mind, body and spirit. You can read more about the health benefits of masala chai here. While the recipe for masala chai is fluid (pun intended) and open-ended, the main basic ingredients are as follows.
- Ginger: Contains anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce muscle soreness and pain.
- Cardamom: Can ease digestive problems and fights bad breath.
- Black pepper: Reduces inflammation and can also help the body absorb more nutrients.
- Cinnamon: Has lots of antioxidants and can also help guard against certain types of heart disease.
- Cloves: Promotes a healthy liver and can also bolster bone health.
- Star anise: Aids in digestive health and can reduce bloating and gas.
- Milk: Not an original ingredient, but has become part of masala chai’s core components, milk helps build healthy teeth and bones.
- Black tea: Also not an original ingredient, but is now the leading herb in masala chai, black tea has antioxidants, caffeine, can help protect our hearts, cuts down on bad cholesterol, speeds up digestion and metabolism and because black tea is partially fermented, can promote healthy gut bacteria!
- 2 pots or saucepans
- Mortar and pestle or coffee or spice grinder
You can find the essential for making the above in our quality chai essentials list.
How to make masala chai
Assuming one has access to all the above ingredients, making masala chai should be a fun and fulfilling activity. We have a special recipe of our own quality chai that you can follow here. For those who don’t have access to all of the ingredients above, or who cannot obtain them fresh, feel free to get creative. Powdered ingredients, or some premade items can also be added to masala chai. The recipe of masala chai is not concrete or dogmatic by any means. In fact, the recipe can differ from household to household! So if you’d like to use black tea from a tea bag or swap the milk for soy milk, go ahead and give it a try! The choice is up to you, your available ingredients and your personal tastes.
The following will be a general overview that can be swapped, changed, switched and adapted as you like!
Grind in a mortar the cardamom, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, fennel seeds and star anise. If you do not have a method of grinding these ingredients, try chopping the softer ingredients very carefully and for the harder ingredients, just boil them whole.
In one of your saucepans or pots, bring the milk to a simmer. You may add brown or black sugar or other sweeteners to taste at this time.
Add your crushed, ground or otherwise prepared spice and herb mixture to the simmering milk and stir. Continue to simmer and stir for 2-3 minutes.
Boil a pot of water and add your black tea. This can be tea bags or loose leaf tea. While black tea is the traditional tea to use, feel free to make a decaffeinated masala chai, sans the tea. Or possibly swap the black tea with green or another type of true tea. While the resulting taste is sure to be unique, using various types of green tea in masala chai is not unheard of! Boil your tea for 1-2 minutes.
Exercise caution on this step, pour the tea through a strainer and into the milk and spice mixture. Continue to simmer the mixture and stir it for another minute or so.
As to serving this beverage, usually the additional ingredients are also strained out before being served and we suggest the same.
Try an iced version by allowing the final product to cool before pouring it into a heat safe mug or container filled with ice. Feel free to add whipped cream or foam!
Try adding in some other ingredients like saffron, ginseng, black or brown sugar, or even mint for a unique and healthy beverage.
You can try cold brewing your masala chai. Prepare the herbs and spices the same way, add them together with your choice of tea in a Mason jar or otherwise sealable bottle or container and add cold or room temperature water. Let them steep in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours. Then, strain the contents and add your choice of cold milk, mix and see how it turned out!
Masala chai makes for a great beverage at any time. Do be aware that it has caffeine via the black tea, however. Otherwise, you can enjoy this great beverage with snacks and treats, even for dessert. Either traditional Indian snacks like samosa, or with some other great and savory food options available to you!
Masala chai your way
One of the beautiful things about masala chai is that not only is it healthy, but you have the freedom to make it your way. So feel free to give this classic beverage a try. Masala chai is a beverage that has undergone changes and adaptations throughout time and as it has travelled from region to region. So, make this great drink part of your tea repertoire today!
“Authentic Masala Chai Recipe.” Feasting At Home, 28 May 2019, www.feastingathome.com/authentic-masala-chai-recipe/.
“Classic Indian Masala Chai Food Pairings.” Tea Trunk, teatrunk.com/blogs/blogs/classic-indian-masala-chai-food-pairings.
Epicurious. “Spiced Milk Tea (Masala Chai).” Epicurious, Gourmet, 16 Sept. 2009, www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/spiced-milk-tea-masala-chai-355421.
Swasthi. “Masala Chai: Masala Tea: How to Make Masala Tea.” Swasthi’s Recipes, 31 July 2019, www.indianhealthyrecipes.com/masala-tea-chai/.