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

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.

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“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 30 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

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


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 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


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

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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41 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Peeyasa

    One thing I think people should get it right. Chai is originally a tea drink made & is popularly consumed all over in India. You will get this version of tea in every city /village across the country. Now it has become global. It’s creamy milky tea flavored with some masala (spices) readily available in any Indian pantry. However, the author got this recipe almost correct. Cheers to that!


  2. Esther

    I added ginger and nutmeg. What a delicious recipe!

  3. Chad

    Who drinks tea tea? There is no need to place chai in front of tea. As chai is literally tea.

    Show Replies (2)
  4. Daniel

    Oh, wow! Heavenly! A real treat! Yummy! Thank you!

    1. Coconut milk (dairy milk completely blocks the antioxidants from the tea and spices from being absorbed)–the Chai tasted just like dairy milk!
    2. Didn’t have Whole Allspice, so I searched and found that 6-7 whole berries = a heaping 1/4 tsp of Ground Allspice.
    3. Didn’t have Cardamom Pods, so I searched and found that each pod = 12 seeds.
    4. Didn’t have White Peppercorns, but I believe I remember being told, in cooking school, that White Peppercorns are just Black Peppercorns which have had the outer layer removed (looks better in a Veloute or other White Sauce ), so I happily used the Black Peppercorns I did have.

    Thank you!


    Show Replies (1)
  5. Kelsey

    Delicious! Try with hot white chocolate!!


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