We love our Masala Chai tea, we can't get enough of it, and in fact, it seems you can't either with our Masala Chai Express being one of our most popular blends. So, on a recent trip to India with my now husband, Michael, I was interested in trying a true Masala Chai from its country of origin. In India, Chai was available on every street corner, in the train stations and even on the trains themselves. Served ready-made, from large urns by Chai Wallahs inviting you to try, with its sweet, spicy smell and at 50 rupees a cup (about 60p) it was even more irresistible.
While the taste of the spices varied from pot to pot, all were very milky and extremely sweet, but still hard to resist, which amongst other things, might go some way to explaining the decaying teeth of many of the Indians we met!
It is said that Chai recipes are passed down through the generations and are tightly guarded family secrets. The array of ingredients can include peppercorns and cinnamon through to cardamon, cloves, and ginger but these are only a few of the spices that may infuse the milk of a delicious Masala Chai. We visited a number of spice shops on our visit and each had their own special blends of this delicious mix stacked high on their shelves. I brought back quite a few samples and have worked my way through all of them now, so, indeed, I think a trip back there might be imminent.
Traditionally, sugar is a must in this milky treat and it's the only tea I will sweeten. The sweetness helps bring out the spices and can be a little disappointing without a lump or two, so perhaps not one to drink every day. It should also be served with hot milk as this too enhances the depth of flavour.
As I have already mentioned, specific recipes vary from family to family and are closely guarded and clandestine in nature, but there are some commonalities between blends, which you can use as a starting point for your own exploration into blending spiced masala chai tea.
Using the following ingredients as a base, you can experiment and expand on it, and perhaps create your own secret family recipe to pass down.
Makes 2 cups
6 oz Indian Black Tea
1/4 tsp Mixed Peppercorns
6 Cardamom Pods, lightly crushed
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Fresh Ginger, grated
4 whole Cloves
Infuse all of the above in a pan with 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of milk, bring to the boil and quickly reduce the heat, simmer gently for a further 5-10 minutes to reach your desired depth of flavour. Sweeten with your choice of sugar or honey and strain.
This base will give you a nicely rounded basic Masala Chai recipe, but you can experiment with adding other ingredients, such as Fennel seeds, Coriander seeds, Star Anise, Tumeric, or why not try infusing with coconut milk for a delicious dairy-free alternative.
While crafting your own personal blend can indeed be an interesting journey, you can, of course, save yourself some of the time, testing and trouble and just grab a bag of our Masala Chai Express, tested and tinkered with by our master blender to achieve a sublimely balanced blend of black tea and spices that is overflowing with flavour. While it's traditionally enjoyed sweetened with milk, our Masala Chai Express can be just as delicious served black and unsweetened, so why not try it both ways.
As the winter months draw near this tea becomes even more popular, maybe because of its warm and comforting feel, or perhaps because the spices remind us of Christmas. Whatever it is, a good Chai is a welcoming companion at any time of year.
Over at the wonderful 1930's themed tea salon Metrodeco in Brighton, they have made a cheeky addition to their menu, and infused some of our Masala Chai Express tea with a dark rum and serve it in a cocktail. You'll have to visit them to try it, however, as this too is a secret recipe which they are keeping all to themselves, passing down through generations of their staff...but only once they have signed an official secrets notice of course!