A truly authentic Indian Chai tea recipe, as made for me by my lovely Indian mother-in-law. Tea the Indian way is rich and milky, deeply coloured, steaming hot, flavourful and sweet. You’ll love this homemade masala chai from scratch with warming spices like whole cinnamon.
What is Chai Tea?
The pale tea that North Americans typically drink is nothing close to the tea drunk by millions of Indians.
Indian tea, called chai in hindi, is rich and milky, deeply coloured, steaming hot, and boldly flavourful with a definite need for sugar to offset the toasty bitterness.
The word chai just means tea. Chai = tea.
If you ask for chai tea in India, you’re asking for tea tea and your dorky adorableness will get laughed at a little bit.
Masala chai, on the other hand, is what you’re probably aiming for – it’s the spiced version. Masala = spices. When we think of chai in North America, we are probably thinking of masala chai.
If you visit India, you’ll see chai-wallas on every corner, calling out “chai! chai! chai!” and pouring steaming tea from a height (called “pulling” the chai), allowing it to cool a bit as it streams into little metal cups.
What is Chai Tea Made of?
What I love so much about it is that the tea is actually brewed in milk and water in a saucepan on the stove.
Because of this, it stays piping hot until ready to be drunk, rather than cooling down as it steeps in a teapot.
Authentic chai tea made from:
- Milk (in a ratio of roughly one part milk to two parts water
- Lots of tea leaves or tea bags for strong infusion
- Plenty of sugar
- Optional addition of spices
How to Make Chai Tea at Home
Despite what Starbucks would have you believe with their chai tea lattes, the real homemade chai tea recipe doesn’t start with a syrup and it’s not super heavily spiced.
A “recipe” is not really necessary; it’s really the method that matters.
The most important key for flavour is to make really good strong tea without letting it get bitter from oversteeping.
Here’s how to make really good cup of chai:
- Bring water, milk and spices to a simmer in a small saucepan on the stove (adding the spices from the start gives them plenty of time to infuse).
- Reduce heat and add in black tea to brew.
- Wait for tea to steep (don’t boil it at this point or the tea releases too many tannins – those bitter compounds that make your mouth feel dry).
- Strain the warm spiced mixture into a mug; this will hold back the whole spices and tea leaves.
- Stir sugar into your chai and sweeten to taste.
Scale the recipe measurements below to the number of servings you need.
Chai Tea Spices
If you love the flavour of North American coffee-shop chai lattes, you can buy tea masala at any Indian grocer, which is just a ground mixes of sweet spices.
I personally find those spice blends usually taste dusty. I prefer to infuse my chai with fresh whole spices instead.
Some of the most common spices (masala) used in Indian chai include:
- cinnamon sticks (or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon)
- fresh ginger
- whole cloves
- green cardamom pods (or a pinch of ground cardamom)
- star anise
- black peppercorns
My personal favourite spice blend includes fresh ginger root, whole cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks and sometimes fennel. You can use any or all of them to make your own flavour.
I typically just toss in a few cardamom pods and fennel seeds. Warming and delicious.
If you don’t have whole spices, you can use ground. Start with a bit and work up in quantity, as the intensity will vary.
What Tea Should You Use to Make Chai Tea at Home?
I love loose-leaf black tea leaves like assam or darjeeling, and the flavour is incredible in spiced tea.
- This Tata Black Tea is the brand of premium Assam loose leaf tea my mother-in-law brings mr from India (and I can also find it at our Indian grocery stores).
- For the most part at home, however, I use whatever black tea I can easily find at the grocery store. For me, that is basic Tetley Orange Pekoe.
- If you are avoiding caffeine, you could make it with decaf black tea (but I find the flavour is super lacklustre) or a rooibos tea.
How to Sweeten Chai
For authenticity, it should be generously sweetened.
I’ve seen recipes call for 1 tbsp sugar per cup. I don’t measure, but I probably use 1 1/2-2 tsp in a coffee mug. It should have a similar sweetness to hot cocoa.
Just avert your eyes and keep on spooning.
(It won’t have more sugar than a Starbucks anyway, you’ll just be aware instead of ignorant.)
To sweeten chai, you can use:
- Plain granulated white sugar
- Natural cane sugar (my fav, because it adds rich flavour)
- Maple syrup or honey (not my preference, because those flavours are bolder and don’t belong)
What Milk Should I Use for Chai?
You have options here:
- Plain whole cow’s milk is the authentic standard.
- In parts of India where fresh milk isn’t as easily available, powdered whole milk is used instead. I really actually love the flavour of this, too, and the concentrated creamy milkiness it imparts. Try it if you ever get the chance.
- If you don’t do dairy milk, you are welcome to use your favourite substitute, however I don’t personally like the flavour of most almond, soy, or coconut milk alternatives.
- The only milk substitute that I enjoy the texture and flavour of is Earth’s Own Barista Oat Milk (that’s an Amazon link for a visual product reference but it appears they only sell it by the case).
Is Chai Tea High in Caffeine?
Yes! Chai tea is brewed strongly with lots of black tea. However coffee contains nearly twice the amount of caffeine in tea.
Furthermore, black tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid with therapeutic calming properties.
I am a Registered Dietitian and I actually take L-theanine as a supplement for stress and sleep.
Because of this compound, the overall caffeine feeling in chai is a less-aggressive buzz than a cup of coffee.
Keep in mind that the more tea bags you use, the longer you steep it, and the more you stir it all make for a higher-caffeine chai.
Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Chai?
Wondering what chai tea can do for you or if it’s healthier than drinking coffee? Well, masala chai infused with spices may offer some impressive health benefits. Spices like black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and clove have shown biological activity in preventing disease.
There is good evidence to show that spices can reduce inflammation, and chronic inflammation is related to so many illnesses.
So drink up, chai lovers! Happy cozy-weather sipping. (And thanks, Amma, for all the tea and love.)
My Indian Husband’s Favorite Recipes:
Authentic Homemade Indian Chai
- 8 oz water
- 4 oz whole milk
- granulated sugar to taste (about 2 heaped teaspoons per serving, traditionally)
- 1 heaping tablespoon of black tea empty out tea bags to make a tablespoon if you don’t buy loose leaves
Add any (or all) of the following:
- 4 cardamom pods smashed with side of a knife
- small piece of cinnamon stick
- ¼ ” coin of fresh ginger
- pinch of fennel seeds about 10 seeds
- Bring water and milk to a simmer with desired spices in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to lowest setting and add tea. Steep until tea takes on a deep, pinky-tan colour, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain into a cup and stir in sugar to taste.
Last Updated on October 4, 2023 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD