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Spices for homemade masala chai
homemade masala chai

So chai means tea, just tea. Masala chai, or masala tea, is the spiced version of tea. Funnily enough, I can’t stand the kind of ‘chai’ sold in tea bags or at starbucks, and definitely have no time for a coffee version like a chai latte. But maybe homemade chai would be good?

The verdict: yes, pretty good. Wonderful. Spicy, warming and delicious. And strong! Definitely the kind of hot drink you should take your time with and sip slowly. With these aromatic, autumnal spices such as cinnamon, ginger and star anise, it is great for drinking while reading a book under a blanket and staring out the window at the gorgeous fall colors. My husband hated it but then he likes earl grey or strong black tea with a splash of milk and nothing else and he will not bend so that’s the end of that. In fact he took one little sip and made a face and said, yuck it tastes like Indian sweets (of course he likes savory Indian food–who doesn’t–but he’s not a fan of the sweets).

I recommend making this only if you have these spices to hand. It’s not worth buying all these whole spices (which can be expensive) just to make one cup of tea. But other than having the ingredients to hand, this is easy. Much easier than trekking to a coffee shop and parting with a five dollar bill. Also remember to get most of these spices from an Indian market which is much cheaper than the spice aisle of a supermarket!

So there are two ways: 1) take the whole and dried spices and grind to a powder that you keep air locked in your pantry for many uses, or 2) steep the whole spices in the liquid and then strain into your cup for a one off.

Also note that you can change the spice quantity and which spices you use to your taste. If 8 peppercorns are too spicy, add less. If you like a super strong ginger taste, add more. Also cloves and fennel seeds can be added. There are countless varieties of masala chai recipes, so figure out the one you like. Choose a decaf tea such as rooibos if you are off caffeine. Use a non-dairy milk if you are vegan. And so forth..

For one-time use
makes 2 cups

2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
4 cardamom pods, smashed
1 thumb-size knob of ginger, peeled and grated
6-8 whole black peppercorns
pinch fresh grated nutmeg
2 tsp loose leaf black tea leaves or 2 teabags
2 tsp sugar or to taste

  1. Heat up the water, milk and all the spices (everything but the tea and sugar) to just under boiling and keep heated on low for at least 20 minutes. Keep lid on. Do not let boil or even simmer.
  2. Turn off the heat, add the tea leaves or tea bags and let steep another few minutes.
  3. Strain into 2 mugs (in the sink in case of splatter) and add sugar to taste.

For a dried spice combo

2 tbsp green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp star anise seeds or fennel seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp whole cloves

  1. Gently toast the spices and ginger powder in a dry frying pan until aromatic. Then grind in a spice grinder until fine. Seal in an airtight container and use about 1/2 a tsp of this spice mix to add to your tea.

If you are interested in ayurvedic medicine, some of the benefits of these spices are as follows:

  • cardamom – cooling, diuretic, digestion, expectorant
  • cinnamon – heat, expectorant
  • ginger – stimulant, digestion, good for the stomach
  • fennel – stimulant, good for stomach
  • black pepper – heat and digestion
  • nutmeg – good for sleep
  • cloves – heat, stimulant, expectorant, decongestant/cough
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