With Thanksgiving round the corner, cold weather has set in. This morning we had temps in the 20s and even though it was a Saturday, our local Starbucks was bustling with people ordering Pumpkin Spice Latte or Chai Latte.  Since I am Indian, tea literally runs in my veins but unlike most Indians, I prefer to have black loose leaf teas (preferably Darjeeling) that I brew in a teapot for 5-7 minutes – the whole process is cumbersome but that is how I have always made my tea and at this age I am not likely to change that.  My friends and family make fun of me and tell me that I am a tea-snob because I don’t like the ubiquitous Indian-style Chai where lots of spices, fresh ginger, loose tea leaves and milk and slow simmered and then poured through a sieve to make what in the US has come to be known as Chai-Tea-Latte. In India, you can find small tea stalls that serve Chai at almost every street corner and almost every one of these little stalls (more like temporary shacks with a few dilapidated looking benches around them) has at any given time a few customers standing around and sipping their tea through small transparent glasses. This tea is probably the one thing in India that cuts across every economic class – it is the one thing that brings everyone together!

Personally, I like the taste of tea without any spices added to it – which is why I brew my tea with plain hot water and nothing else. Even though I don’t like to drink it, I do know how to make the ever-so-popular chai and after repeated requests from the recipe for “Chai-tea”, I am finally going to give in and post this it.
Every family and every tea stall in India must have its own variations on how they make their chai (most add fresh ginger, green cardamom, cinnamon, tea leaves, water, milk and sugar),  I make mine with a little twist – I  like to add fennel seeds because they give the tea a mild licorice flavor). I also add a couple of cloves and sometimes even a star anise. You can experiment with various kinds of spices and see which ones you’d like to add or remove from this recipe.  The proportions that I have given below make a strong spicy chai and if you’d like to have a slightly milder flavor, cut back on the quantities of ingredients mentioned below.



1.    4-5 cups of water
2.    1 cup of milk
3.    Sugar to taste
4.    1 stick of cinnamon
5.    2-3 small green cardamom pods
6.    2 cloves
7.    1 star anise
8.    1 nub of ginger (about ½ inch long)
9.    1-2 tablespoons of fennel seeds
10.    3-4 teaspoons of loose tea leaves or 3 black teabags


1.    Pour the milk and water in a large saucepan and heat it at low heat.

2.    Peel and roughly chop the ginger and add it to the saucepan.

3.    With a pestle or a hammer break the pods of green cardamom (the flavor is in the seeds and so you can extract more flavor from them if you break the seeds up) and add them to the saucepan.

4.    Also add the fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and bring everything to a slow boil.

5.    Then add the tea and sugar (if you want any) and boil on low heat for another 2- minutes.


6.    Pour the chai through a sieve to remove all the tea leaves and the spices and serve while it is still piping hot.

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  1. Permalink Submitted by Surbhi on Sun, 24/11/2013 - 03:23

    Yes its totally chai and samosa weather in Houston too.

    My variation has cloves, green cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and if I have it fresh tulsi. I also cannot stand the taste of boiled tea leaves so when the water and milk boil I add the tea leaves and turn off the heat. Cover and let it steep for 1-2 minutes and strain.

    • Permalink Submitted by Shabnam on Sun, 24/11/2013 - 14:10

      Hi Surbhi – oh yes, it is freezing cold out here too – today the temp is supposed to be in the teens (with wind chill of course)!!!! Its totally chai weather – even I, the tea-snob would like some Masala Chai today!!! I completely agree with you – I don’t like the flavor of boiled tea leaves and that is why I don’t like chai but prefer brewed tea instead. Until you suggested it I had never thought of adding chai after turning the heat off – so it’ll be like brewed tea with “masalas’ added to it – will try that today 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!!! What are you plans? xoxo

  2. Permalink Submitted by Shilpa Patel on Sun, 24/11/2013 - 13:37

    In Gujarat people buy powdered tea masala – each person has their own favourite store and blend – and I am pretty sure it also has a little black pepper in it. We also add citronella leaves (called leeli cha or green tea in Gujarati) I like this with a really strong tea like Assam. The problem is that the milk in this country does not taste like the buffalo milk so common in my part of India. I have found after some experimentation (including with Indian loose teas) that PG Tips tea bags – one to a cup plus if you like your tea really strong, one extra for the whole lot – really comes closest to approximating the taste of the chaiwallah stuff that is so ubiquitous in India. And – this may be total heresy, but it does improve the mouth feel and weight of the tea – I use a teaspoon of sweetened condensed milk in my milk and water mixture, and adjust the sugar accordingly. By the way the mixture I use is more heavily weighted to milk than yours, more like 2 or 3 is to 1.
    Now you’ve given me a strong desire to have chai!!!

    • Permalink Submitted by Shabnam on Sun, 24/11/2013 - 14:22

      Hi Shilpa – I haven’t been to Gujarat and so I have yet to taste their powdered Chai mix – maybe the Indian store has it. I have bought masala chai tea bags at the Indian store for Simran (who takes them back to college for herself and her friends) but I have never tasted those – I wonder if they are the same as the ones you have suggested. Its funny how many variations of chai there are – I hadn’t even heard of the Leeli Cha or adding pepper to it although I have heard of Indians here combining Earl Grey (which gives the chai some peppery flavor) and Assam tea leaves to make their chai. The condensed milk I have seen and tasted – I remember an aunt who used to insist that he tea should have condensed milk or she wouldn’t have the chai. I have been asked so many times by non-Indian readers to post a recipe for chai-tea (which is like saying cappuccino-coffee) and so finally I posted this one but I guess with all the ideas you have given me and my friend Surbhi (above) maybe I can post a couple more variations of the chai-recipe. In this freezing cold weather, we could all do with some chai 🙂

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