What is Masala Chai?
Really! You don’t know?
In Hindi “Masala” means spices and “Chai“ means tea, so its spicy tea, but hold on, there are NO chilli’s to be found.
You will find a mixture of spices from ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, star anais, black pepper and cloves. Each recipe is different and unique to each family. These spices are added to milk , water and loose-leaf tea. All these ingredients are then heated to infuse the warm, calming flavours.
Where does it come from?
If you have ever been to India, you will no doubt have seen a “Chai Wallah” at some point on the streets. He (and it usually is a guy) will be making hot, very sweet tea to the commuters in the morning and at any other time of the day. These are served in small clear glasses, rinsed out ready for the next customer. It’s what the rough guides and tourist information warn you against drinking when you are there! Not because the tea itself is harmful, as its not. Its been boiled to death in front of your very eyes. Unfortunately, the glasses will more than likely be rinsed in local tap water.
Upon my visit to Delhi a couple of years ago, we stopped at what looked like a ramshackle hut with a corrugated iron roof and makeshift walls – the closest to a gazebo. Under this was an efficiently run tea business. With queues and a few steel drums to perch upon, the trade was roaring. A minute to be served, 30 mins to ponder the day ahead, for those that looked retired or not a care in the world. Whilst the serious commuters bought, drank and were on their way in 10 mins, the steaming hot chai barely gracing their throats.
We were kindly sold chai in paper cups for our delicate constitutions. Now, I don’t normally drink masala chai nor do I have sugar in any of my hot drinks in England, but there was something special about drinking this, something that warmed your inner soul when greeted with the mulled spices that had brewed all morning. I could have , done with a lot less sugar, but that’s just the way it’s served – hot and sweet, very sweet.
Of course, when you are invited into some ones’ home in India, it is largely served to you in a cup and saucer, or simply in a saucer! The general slurping noises that come from the saucer are in fact considered normal and logical. After all, the tea cools down quicker in a saucer, due to its larger surface area and the air that passes as you slurp also helps to cool it further!
As for the actual making of the tea, its all about how long you simmer it for. A bit like Garam Masala, each family will have their own spice mix for tea. Some may have more cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, star anais, etc but all will have some ginger in it. The loose-leaf tea is not mixed with the spices prior to boiling it but is generally added to the water/milk in the pan depending on how strong you prefer it.
My mix conveniently has the tea and masala mixed to make it easier for you.
For 1 cup of Masala Chai
- ½ cup of water
- ½ cup of milk
- 1 tsp masala chai mix
- Sugar (optional)
- Pour ½ cup of water and ½ cup of milk (any milk) into a pan.
- Add 1 ½ teaspoon of the masala chai to the water/milk mixture
- Add sugar, if needed.
- [WATCH OVER IT CAREFULLY] Now bring it to the boil and be very careful not to let it overflow.
- Once boiled reduce the heat immediately
- simmer for 4-5 mins, stirring occasionally
- The colour should be a golden brown
- Carefully pour the tea through a sieve, directly into a cup or into a teapot or heatproof jug
- Drink immediately.
Use any kind of milk eg soy, oat, rice etc. You can also add extra loose leaf tea if you require a stronger taste.