In India, masala is the word for spice, or a blend of spices. and chai is the word for tea. Masala chai, with a taste quite unlike any other tea drunk in the world, is a comforting, grounding, milky, and historically sweet beverage. Chai offers Ayurvedic healing for the mind, body and spirit. It’s made with black tea, and a masala mixture that is made from a handful of toasted and finely ground spices, along with milk and sugar. Every Indian family has its own favorite combination of spices. However, cardamom, cloves, dry ginger, cinnamon and black pepper tend to be the mainstays. Other optional additions are fresh ginger (an absolute definite for me), mint leaves and lili chai (a wonderfully aromatic type of lemongrass). Tulsi (holy basil) leaves are also sometimes added.
Chai is as embedded in Indian culture as the more commonly known version of tea is in the culture of England. The difference, however, is that in India, it is only really drunk twice a day, rather than as and when. It is made once at breakfast, and again around 4pm. Chai boosts energy, and provides so much goodness, so it’s almost a meal in itself; it increases focus, aids digestion, helps immunity, boosts circulation, and reduces inflammation. There are many antioxidant properties in the spices, which make this simple drink an all round amazing holistic health aid.
I absolutely love masala chai. It reminds me of holidays ot India, spending time round the dining table with our relatives. We would gather at breakfast and again in the afternoon, chatting and sipping hot chai accompanied by home made savoury snacks. It makes me feel safe and comforted; it warms my body during winter. Preparing chai is a beautiful ritual that allows for a little daydreaming and introspection. It is a perfect form of self love.
You can, of course, make this with already ground spices, but toasting whole ones before grinding them ensures the release of the wonderful therapeutic properties from the spices, and an altogether superior aroma.
I don’t add sugar to my chai, but of course if you want the genuine authentic chai of India, then a little sugar is called for.
12g green cardamoms
2 black cardamoms
25g cinnamon sticks
50g whole dried ginger, cut small (or ground if you can’t get whole)
6 black peppercorns
1 mace flower
3g fennel seeds
1 small star anise
Roast all the spices on a low heat in a frying pan, stirring well, until the aroma fills the air. This should only take 5 minutes. If using ground ginger, you will simply add this to the rest of the spices once they are ground. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Now grind them in two batches to a fine powder before sieving to remove any larger bits. Any remaining pieces after batch one, can be ground again with batch two.
Store your masala mixture in an airtight jar in the cupboard. It should keep its freshness for 6 months. This mixture makes well over 100 servings of masala. Reduce the portions if you want to make less, or better still, gift a small jar or two of it to others.
To make 2 cups or 4 small glasses of masala chai:
Heat 1/2 mug water in a pan. Add a heaped tsp robust black tea leaves (chai is always robust) such as Assam. Now add 1/2 tsp chai masala, (and any other combination of the optional ingredients- see above), bring to a simmer and add 1/2 mug whole milk or any milk of choice. Bring to a boil, add sugar if desired, and once the tea colour is to your liking, turn off the heat. Strain into pretty tea glasses (if you are feeling the street chaiwalla vibe, or if not, a good old English mug), leaving enough room at the top to hold the hot glasses, and sip slowly. Feel the deliciousness and the benefits flow through you.
Let me know if you make the masala, and which combination of ingredients you prefer.