Updated: May 27
When we talk about Indian tea, the names ‘chai’ and ‘masala chai’ get thrown around a lot. Totally different from what people drink in the name of tea in the UK and other western countries.
‘Chai’ is a distinct style of milk-based tea consumed throughout the Indian subcontinent. What makes it special is its warm spice note in conjunction with the soothing properties from boiled milk. Almost every Indian household has chai for breakfast and with evening snacks. The ingredients and the way it is prepared makes it very relaxing to consume at any time and during any weather. The best part is that it is not only consumed in households in India but as a welcoming drink as well when you visit someone’s house or any shop. It is a tradition to welcome guests with chai in India, Pakistan and many other parts of the Asian subcontinent. So, it only fits that much importance and attention in detail is given when preparing it.
The primary ingredient used is black tea, which is known for its strong flavour. It is combined with a mixture of a variety of Indian spices and herbs, including milk and sugar, to give the beverage its aromatic and soothing taste. Today, Indian Tea is widely featured in restaurants and tea houses all across the globe.
In this post, we will discuss everything you need to know about Indian Tea, from its history to the ingredients used, how it is prepared, and more. Let’s get started.
History of Indian Tea
In India, since the beginning of civilisation, tea was viewed as a herbal medicine rather than a recreational beverage. The Camellia Sinensis plant is native to India and grew in the wild long before its true worth was realised. It is only after when tea was commercially produced in India that it became a daily beverage. Before that, tea was considered an ayurvedic medicine used for treating different health complications. These tea plants have grown wild in the north-east region of India since antiquity. ‘Karha,’ a masala chai spice mixture that is still in use today, is taken from age-old ayurvedic texts.
In the 1830s, the Chinese monopoly on tea made the British East India Company concerned with the import and export of tea. Commercial tea production in China established the majority of British trade. It also supported the vast popularity and enormous consumption of tea in the United Kingdom. During that time, the British colonists came to know about the existence of tea plantations in Assam. Now since the Brits wanted to look for an alternative source for their tea trades, they found Assamese tea plants as a great opportunity. The British East India Company started cultivating tea locally in India.
At first, the Indian Tea Association owned by the British disapproved of independent vendors preparing tea with spices and herbs. But with time, as it is in its present form, masala chai established itself firmly as a popular beverage in India.
Today, there is no fixed preparation method or recipe for masala chai. It greatly depends on personal preference and differs from family to family. This makes masala chai the most versatile beverage in the whole world. Many families have their own versions of the chai. With that said, masala chai can be considered a type of tea rather than a particular kind.
What is Masala Chai Made of?
In particular, all types of masala chai consists of five primary components:
1. Black Tea
The base tea used is a strong black tea. The reason why black tea is preferred for the preparation of masala chai is that the sweeteners and spices do not overpower it. And instead of leaves, tea granules are used.
The traditional masala chai is brewed with several proportions of warming spices. The masala chai spice mixture is called ‘Karha’, and the spices used in it varies from family to family. However, the base of the spice mix includes green cardamom pods and ground ginger. Other spices and herbs are added to the mix based on one’s preference. They include:
● Ginger root
● Cardamom seeds
● Fennel seeds
● Star anise
These spices and herbs are not used in powdered form or paste, but as it is. Ginger and cardamom are the dominant notes. Black pepper and cloves add certain heat for the flavour.
The traditional composition of masala chai spices differs by region and climate. Other possible ingredients may include rose flavouring, coriander, chilli, black cardamom, mace, and nutmeg. Cumin and liquorice root are also preferred by some people.
In India, traditionally, buffalo milk is used to make chai. Essentially, one part of milk is mixed with two or three parts of water. Those who don’t prefer milk, replace it with water.
In the majority of the cases, white sugar is used as a sweetener. Those who don’t prefer sweetener or those who have diabetes take their masala chai without any sweetener. Sugar helps in enhancing the flavour of the spices.
How to Make Masala Chai?
The traditional method of making masala chai is through decoction. It is a process of extraction by boiling the black tea granules along with all the spices to dissolve the flavour and enzymes into the liquid.
It can be made in so many different flavours all to suit one’s liking.
For making 1 cup masala chai, you will need -
Ingredients: (masala chai spice mix)
● Green cardamoms - 3-4 (skinned)
● Cloves - 3
● Cinnamon - ½ to ¾ inch
● Fennel seeds - ¼ teaspoon
● Peppercorn - ¼ to ½ teaspoon
● Nutmeg - ½ teaspoon
● Star anise - 2 petals
NOTE: you can customise your masala chai spice mix with the spices you want.
For making tea
● Tea granules or tea leaves - 1 teaspoon
● Water - 2 cups
● Milk - ½ cup
● Ginger - freshly crushed (1 teaspoon)
● Sugar - as needed (2-3 teaspoons)
● Mix two cups water with ½ cup milk
● Bring the mixture to a boil
● Crush the spices and add to the mixture
● Add Tea and crushed ginger along with that
● Boil for about 2-3 minutes on medium heat
● Wait for the tea to turn thick
● Strain the tea and serve hot with biscuits or snack
Masala chai is one of the best-tasting teas in the world. It contains many spices and is enriched with flavour. If you are an avid tea drinker, masala chai is certainly worth trying, and it most definitely will not be your last.