Chai

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 wonderful spices 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 15 years ago and since then chai has become much more popular here.

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

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

Ingredients

chai-spice-list-thumb-a.jpg

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

black-tea.jpg

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.

Hello! All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on Simply Recipes. Thank you!

24 Comments

  1. Stephanie

    My husband adores chai. And being the academic he is, get reall annoyed when it’s referred to as ‘chai tea’!

    He’ll often make up the spice liquid, and keep it in the fridge, so it’s always on hand.

  2. sten

    Do you put the spices in the water directly, or in a tea ball or bag to keep them from ending up in the drink? Do you grind the spices?

  3. sophia

    I make it with closer to a half-half ratio of water to milk. Whole milk makes it better, but others will do. Letting it boil and cook so the spices infuse and the milk gets that cooked flavor increases the tastiness (and authenticity) considerably. The spice I cannot be without is GINGER! All others are good, but I find ginger to be essential. I use powdered. I would recommend using only a few cloves for that quantity of tea; that seems awfully strong. But however you make it, fresh definitely beats using some weird liquid from a can or however some people are making it these days now that it’s become trendy.

  4. 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.

  5. Philipp

    Hi, I would really like to know how to make liquid chai i havent found any recipes on the internet.

  6. gautam

    Heres a variant of chai from India (for 1 cup)

    1) take 3/4 cup of water, let it boil
    2) crush a small piece of ginger and add it to the boiling water
    3) add milk (1/4 cup) and wait till it boils; bring to a simmer
    4) add a (tea)spoon of tea-leaves, and simmer on low heat for 10 seconds, then remove
    5) serve with honey or sugar

    (This is especially good for colds)

    Enjoy!

  7. Kyleen

    If you do use the sweetened condensed milk from a can, should you add more water?

  8. El C.Loco

    Geographically speaking the problem here with this Chai is that Allspice is an American spice. Rather for an honestly in ethnic cuisine and use your heaping portions of Clove and Cinnamon just like you have but increase their ratios slighty so as to include a proper ratio of nutmeg. The taste will be the same.

    If the taste is the same why bother? Bother because nutmeg and tea leaves combine to give a rather pleasant mood enhancement… Much more so than just tea leaves alone. It’s chemical process that affects the brain when they are mixed.

    I caution though that drinking too much authentic chai will cause the drinker to become euphoric, then hyper-active, start to seriously hallucinate, and then fall into seizures and all sorts of cardio-pulmonory compilications. The effects will wear off in about 3 o 5 days… So just don’t over do it.

    A little is enough to relax.

  9. Sam

    I used five cups of milk and it seemed to be a little weak… did i do something wrong, or would you just recommend less milk?

  10. Sudsy

    My first experience with Chai came in 1980 at the small outdoor chai shop outside my hotel in Karachi, Pakistan. There black tea is steeped in goats milk and a variety of spices are added.
    Made in a large copper kettle it was caramel colored rich and delicious. A skin would form across the top and the local street kids would pine for its goodness as the proprietor skimmed it off.

  11. Dev

    When I don’t have the time to steep the spices I usually use to make Indian Chai, I use the following shortcut:

    - Heat equal parts milk (can be skim or low fat) and water until the mix just starts bubbling.
    - Turn off heat and add two Wagh Bakri Masala Chai tea bags for each person and steep for five minutes.
    - Add sugar to taste.

    The Wagh Bakri Masala Chai is a mix of Assam tea with spices. It is available at most Indian grocery stores. It tastes almost as good as fresh tea!

  12. Nabeela

    Indians make chai with water to milk ratio about 3:1
    Irani chai, on the otherhand, which is very popular in Hyderabad(India) is made with 1:1 ratio water and milk. Also, the tea leaves we use are very strongly flavored…sometimes so strong that you don’t even need spices!

  13. Lisa

    Where do you get white peppercorns? I have checked several different health food/bulk spice stores within a 50-mile radius and no one sells them.

  14. Maat

    Thanks for the great recipe! I made this tonight just as you described (skim instead of whole milk) and it was delicious. I will try again tomorrow when I can get some whole milk since I am familiar with a creamier chai.

  15. Martha

    I am a big fan of Chai and have never tried making it myself. It is getting pretty expensive to buy chai every morning. But I love it so much and it is really the best way to start my day. I don’t want to wake up an extra hour early to cook a recipe fresh every morning. Is there a way I can make this once a week and then heat a thermos full every morning as I run out the door? Or am I just spoiling myself too much?

    Hi Martha, why don’t you make a batch like you would ice tea, and then just heat it in the morning? Just don’t leave the tea leaves and spices in what you store, strain them out first. ~Elise

  16. Nancy

    Hi-
    Just thought I’d add my recipe too. I make a pot every morning now instead of coffee.
    I add two black tea bags to a 2/3 full medium saucepan of water. I add 4 crushed cardamom seeds and about 10 crushed cloves using a mortar/pestle. Finally I add a small piece of cinnamon bark. Let this come to a boil for about 10 minutes. Then add enough milk according to how creamy you’d like the tea. Let come to a boil once more– careful to watch the pot so it does not overflow (it boils again pretty fast). I then transfer tea using strainer to a stainless steel teapot that can be kept warm on the stove. It sounds complicated at first but it probably takes about the same time to make a pot of coffee. Also this makes about 4 cups of tea. We get our cloves, cardamom and cinnamon at the Indian grocer. My husband is Indian and I am proud to say that my mother-in-law really enjoys my tea! It’s the only Indian “dish” I’ve become accomplished at so far. Enjoy.

  17. Nancy

    oops! I forgot the sugar in the above post. You need to add about 3 tablespoons sugar to the pot when you add the milk. Use more or less depending on your tastes.

  18. Alex

    This recipe is amazing, but I would change one thing. Add 1 more cardamom pod to make it spicier a little.

  19. Sarah

    I love chai, and when I was in India I bought Masala spices. All nicely mixed and pounded for me…but I lost the recipe that goes with it! I remember it was milk, water, tea and sugar (with the masala spice of course), but I don’t remember the correct ratios, measurements and sequence..can anyone help me? I thought the spices all mixed together was a lot easier than pounding them all. Thanks in advance!

  20. Kris

    I can highly recommend this recipe especially with good quality Orange Pekoe tea leafs. Best served with soy milk and a little honey.

  21. 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.

  22. MaKayah

    I told my boyfriend that you can’t drink chai without milk and he didn’t believe me. He doesn’t like tea or any similar beverage other than his unsweetened black tea he keeps in the fridge. This looks fabulous. Maybe I can force him to have a sip.

  23. 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

  24. 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.

Post a comment

Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for waiting. First time commenting? Please review the Comment Policy.

Some HTML is OK. URLs are automatically converted to links. Line breaks are automatically converted to paragraphs. The following HTML tags are allowed: a, abbr, acronym, b, blockquote, cite, code, del, em, i, q, strike, strong