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The Simplicity of Homemade Chai

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A warm mug of sweet, spicy, homemade chai has the power to melt away stress and make all things in the world right again.  Just sip the frothy blend of spices, tea, milk and honey, and sit back for a few quiet minutes while the magical powers take effect.

OK, feel better now?

Chai is a spiced milk and tea drink popular all over India.  The spice mixture, chai masala, mostly consists of cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper, though it varies just as widely as curry blends.  These spices are considered to be adaptogenic herbs, which means their medicinal properties increase the body’s ability to cope with stress and promote a return to emotional balance and wellbeing.  According to Ayurvedic medicine, when combined these spices are calming, revitalizing and mentally clarifying.  They also act as natural digestive aides.  See, I told you it was magic!

I’ve been a daily chai drinker for decades, and have developed this recipe based on the blends I’ve had here and in India.  Mine is for a concentrate blend to keep in the refrigerator and mix up quickly.  I usually brew enough to fill a quart jar, which gets me through a week.  When I’m ready for my afternoon chai, I measure 1/2 cup of the concentrate and 1/2 cup milk, then heat in a small saucepan.  I’ll foam some of the milk, if I’m feeling fancy.  In the summer, I have it chilled over ice.

When brewing your own chai, it’s important to have good quality spices.  Shop for them in bulk at places like Whole Foods or Indian markets.  The tea is important too, do not use fancy whole leaf tea, the flavor will compete too much with the spices.  You want “mamri” tea, or “little grain”.  This is black and cheap, try Taj Mahal or even Lipton (yellow label).  Two other really important components of chai are full-fat milk and a sweetener, both activate and enhance the flavors of the spices, so don’t even think about skimping on those!

Homemade Chai

Making your own chai blend is simple, though it does take a little bit of time to develop the flavors, as it is with most Indian cooking.   I love the ritual of preparing the spices and gently creating such a lovely brew.  The basic spices are cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg and ginger.  I love the addition of star anise, coriander seeds and orange zest.  Sometimes I will also add a few allspice berries and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Fresh ginger, in my opinion, is absolutely necessary for the gentle heat and depth of flavor.

chai spices names

Gather your spices and prepare them by crushing the cardamom pods (to release the tiny black seeds) and mashing the ginger to break down the cell walls.  Freshly grate the nutmeg and zest from an organic orange.  Place all the spices in a pot of cold water and gently simmer for 10 minutes.  Place the lid on the pot, remove from heat and steep at least 30 minutes.  When the liquid is caramel colored, reheat to just a boil, then remove from heat again and add the tea.  Replace the lid and steep another 5 minutes.

Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve and add the sweetener (honey, maple syrup, cane sugar or coconut sugar) and vanilla.  Stir until dissolved.  This is the chai concentrate, store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

To make a cup of chai, measure equal portions of the concentrate and whole milk, and heat in a small saucepan until just before it boils.  Pour into a mug and sprinkle with a pinch of cinnamon.  On a hot day, pour the mixture over ice.

cup of warm chai

A cup of this chai will sooth your soul and lift your energy.  Tinker around with the flavors you enjoy and the caffeine level that feels good to you.  Many people like to add a fresh tea bag to the hot milk, or sprinkle finely grated ginger over the top.  I actually make a decaf version for the kids without the tea, so we can all enjoy our afternoon chai together.

The Simplicity of Homemade Chai
Recipe type: Drinks
  • 2 star anise
  • 8 green cardamom pods (crushed)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 cloves
  • 10 black pepper corns
  • ½ inch of fresh ginger, sliced thinly and mashed
  • 8 coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 inch zest of orange peel
  • 1 quart of water
  • 6 scoops of black tea or 6 bags
  • ¼ cup sweetener (honey, maple syrup, cane sugar or coco sugar)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Place spices in a pot with cold water and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, cover with the lid and let steep at least 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the lid, return to a boil, then take off the heat again. Add the tea bags, cover with the lid again and steep 5 minutes.
  4. Pour liquid through a fine mesh strainer and stir in the sweetener and vanilla. Stir until dissolved. Store concentrate in the refrigerator.
  5. The make a cup of chai, pour equal parts concentrate and whole milk into a saucepan and heat until just before it boils. Pour into a mug and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.


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