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Chai for a Chilly Day

I can’t remember where I was when I had my first sip of chai.  It’s mostly a taste memory and my mouth waters when I think of it – creamy, comforting and spicy.

Hot chocolate used to be my cold weather soother but chai overtook it when chocolate wasn’t looking.  I’ve learned a thing or two about chai along the way.  Order a chai tea and find out that it can be served black, without a drop of milk.  Discover that for many people in Asia, chai is just the everyday word for tea.  What I’m dreaming of with warmed milk and spices is called Masala Chai.  What I like on a special treat day with lots of frothy (soy) milk is a Chai Tea Latte.

Fortunately, Masala (meaning “mixture,” as in mixture of spices) Chai tea can be readily found at the neighbourhood tea and coffee shop.  With my usual curiousity at play, I’ve been wondering what it would take to make my own heartwarming Masala Chai.  I’ve learned there is art and science involved and that there are four main ingredient components to consider:

First of all, it’s important to select a strong, loose leaf black tea that will let itself be known in the overall brew – apparently Assam is a popular choice for many Masala Chai teas served in India.

Next is the sweetener and this is a matter of personal choice from a wide array of sugars.  I am a fan of a heavy dollop of liquid honey but bear in mind that I have a sweet tooth with roots all the way down to my ankles.  I also like the texture of brown sugar but any sugar is said to work, including jaggery which is used in Ayurvedic medicine  and is considered by some to be a healthier sugar.

The third ingredient is milk (or soy milk if you’re lactose intolerant like me) and every recipe I consulted proposed that the ultimate choice is whole milk.  Respecting that this is a dietary splurge for many people, a compromise of sorts may be to use condensed milk for a treat and consider it your sweetener too.

Finally, you need a blend of spices and this is where a secret family recipe comes in handy.  If you don’t happen to have a secret family recipe for Masala Chai, here is one to get you started.  If it’s not ‘your cup of tea’ (groan),  experiment and adapt it to suit your taste, creating your own family recipe along the way.

Happy brewing!

Melissa McLean

PS.  Send me a note and let me know how it goes; I would like to hear your thoughts on what makes a great Masala Chai too.

Masala Chai Tea  (Serves: 4)


  • 2 teaspoons of loose, unperfumed black tea
  • 1 or 1 and a half sticks of 1’’ cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of black peppercorns
  • 2-3 sticks of cloves
  • 2 pods of green cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups of milk
  • Sweetener (e.g. sugar or honey), to taste
  • 3 cups of water


  • Crush the cinnamon, black peppercorns, cloves, cardamoms and fennel seeds in a mortar. Leave sealed in a container for a few hours or overnight to mature.
  • Put water in a pan, add the above mixture of spices and bring it to boil.
  • Cover the pan and simmer for few minutes.
  • Remove the pan from heat and let the spices infuse their flavour for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add your preferred sweetener and milk to the pan and bring again to boil.
  • Add black tea and boil for 5 minutes. Watch carefully to ensure chai does not boil over by reducing heat quickly just before it does.
  • Repeat 2 or 3 times. This process thickens the chai and gives a rich and creamy taste. However, this is not necessary if you’re using full cream milk.
  • Remove the chai from heat, sprinkle nutmeg powder and stir it.
  • Strain it into a teapot or directly into teacups and serve hot.

P.S: Sprinkle a pinch of freshly ground cinnamon powder or place a dollop of whipped cream on top to garnish. For those who like their chai extra spicy, add more black pepper.

(Recipe Source:  http://www.chai-tea-recipes.com/recipes/masala-chai-tea-recipe)

Photo credit:  P. Arlidge

Melissa McLean is a member of the Marketing Committee for The Victoria Tea Festival and can be found hovering over the honey pot  in local tea and coffee shops.

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