Chai

Traditional chai tea recipe, prepared with full-bodied black tea, star anise, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, white peppercorns, cardamom, whole milk and sugar.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

The first time I had chai, I was in a small rented room in the Chungking Mansion in Hong Kong (notoriously cheap accommodations). Our little cel block area probably had 4 bedrooms, and one little old Chinese lady who sat in the entryway and managed them.

The morning after my arrival I was still reeling from the shock of my expectations when I booked the place (“Chungking Mansion, my that sounds quite nice”) compared to the reality of the place, when the little old lady asked me, “Chai?”, pointing to a pot on the stove.

“Sure,” I replied, not knowing exactly what was coming, perhaps tea?

Boy was I surprised, and in the best possible way. Chai is tea, black tea, but tea steeped in milk, flavored with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise, and sweetened with sugar or honey.

This wonderful chai was the best discovery in Hong Kong; I couldn’t wait to spend another night in the Mansion, just to have some more chai in the morning. That was over 20 years ago and since then chai has become much more popular here.

Chai Tea

The other day my friend Suzanne served up some delicious chai and told me more of her experiences with it while in the Peace Corp in Africa. According to Suzanne, families have chai recipes the way they have curry recipes, every one a little different and each particular to a family.

It can conveniently be made all in one pot, and you can use sweetened condensed milk from a can – important in the tropics. If you really want the authentic experience, drink it from a tin cup. Here is the way that Suzanne makes her chai:

Chai Recipe

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  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes one pot of tea

Ingredients

Spice ingredients for one pot of tea:

  • 1/2 of a star anise star
  • 10-12 whole cloves
  • 6-7 whole allspice
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon bark (or 2 short sticks)
  • 6-7 whole white peppercorns
  • 1 cardamon pod opened to the seeds

 

Other ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 4-6 cups whole milk
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of a high quality full-bodied broad-leaf black tea (Ceylon, or
  • English Breakfast if a broad-leaf Ceylon is not available)
    Sugar

Method

1 In a 2-qt saucepan, add spices to 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil; remove from heat; let steep for 5-20 minutes, depending on how strong a spice flavor you want.

2 Add 4-6 cups of whole milk to the water and spices. If you don't have whole milk, you can also use non-fat or low-fat milk, just add some cream to it, a few tablespoons. Bring the milk and spice mixture just to a boil and remove from heat.

3 Add the tea to the milk and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes to taste. (Option at this point - reheat to a simmer and remove from heat.) You can add sugar at this point, or serve without sugar and let people put the amount of sugar in they want. Traditionally, sugar is added before serving.

4 Strain into a pot. Serve. Add sugar to taste.

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Chai Tea Spices

Showing 4 of 21 Comments

  • Anita

    Hi Elise,

    I just found this recipe. Love it!

    I have to tell you that I, too, stayed at Chungking Mansions about the same time you were there. Only made that mistake once!

    Anita

  • Sanjeev

    Long time reader… first time commenter. I love your blog. Many a yummie meals thanks to you!

    Having grown up in India, I find something odd about everyone’s recipes for Chai. Namely, when you add the tea leaves. In India, and most Indian families I know here in the States, the spices (as per your likes/discretion) are first simmered in water. Next the tea is added to the water and simmering continues for 5 to 10 minutes. Only after the tea has reached it’s desired strength is the milk added.

    When tea is added to milk instead of being steeped or simmered in water first, it creates a drink called “Doodh Phathi” which roughly translates to: milk with tea leaves, traditionally served in the evening.

    When the tea leaves are added to milk, the fats and proteins in the milk prevent the “proper” release or leeching of flavors of the tea from the leaf. I use quotations for proper, because the desired taste for Chai that one want from tea leaves is different than the flavors from the tea leaf one desires for Doodh Phathi.

    All the best, and look forward to some more great meals!
    Keep up the great work.

  • Ana

    I just tried this recipe right now with the following changes because I know how I like my chai :)
    1.5 teaspoons cinnamon bark chips
    1 teaspoons ginger chips dried
    1/2 vanilla bean pod

    All else as Elise has it except I used soymilk–no dairy allowed here. It was FABULOUS! Very much like the Oregon Chai flavor.

    Thanks for the recipe Elise!

    Ana

  • Elise

    Put the spices directly in the water. Do not grind them. Use a strainer or sieve to strain them out when transferring the chai to a teapot or to a cup.

  • Hanumantha Rao Maddukuri

    I used to take 2-3 cups of ‘Irani Chai’ when I was in Hyderabad. I just made it and am enjoying every sip.
    Thank you Elise.

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