In India, if you ask for sweetened chai, every home and every vendor will have a unique and often very spicy version of their own masala (translate that “private mixture.. and I don’t share my recipe!”) In India, chai actually just means tea, but in the US, it has become the generic name for strong, spiced tea blended with milk and sweeteners.
There are many brands of packaged pre-mixed chai in the US market today, including powdered mixes, liquid mixes, and ready to serve. We’ve found most of these to be way too sweet, not enough real tea flavor and often not spicy enough. Our favorite way of making chai is to prepare a chai base first, usually one quart. This base can be kept refrigerated and then used to quickly make a cup of chai anytime.
Tips on the method
Straining the Chai base – Use a fine double mesh strainer, or a cotton tea sock, or a Chatsford infuser.
Make your own recipe – Keep track of your results. Add or subtract spices to suit your taste.
For children – Go easy on the spices, particularly the pepper or cloves, if used.. and consider using a decaf tea to reduce the potential energy level!
Chai base No. 1
This recipe starts with Cardamom flavored tea. The base tea is a lighter, Ceylon like, blend from the Blue Mountains of India (Nilgiri province).
(makes 1 quart of chai base)
* 32 oz boiling water
* 1/2 cup powdered dry milk
* loose leaf Cardamom flavored tea (25 grams, about 1/3 cup, heaping)
* Recommended Spices – start with 1/2 tsp of each
o Ginger, ground
o Cinnamon, ground
o and a bit of added ground cardamom, if that is your favorite (or you are Swedish by ancestry!)
* OR in place of your own spices, add 1 tsp Spicy Chai Powder spice mix – in place of other spices (very strong on ginger and pepper, not for faint of heart)
The chai base can be made in a large teapot or a sauce pan. Boil 1 quart of water. Pour into teapot. Add dry milk and stir. Add loose tea and spices. Stir well and cover with lid and tea cozy. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain into 1 quart mason (heat safe) jar or a second teapot if serving right away. The base is now ready for use, or it can be refrigerated for later use.
Chai base No.2
This recipe starts with a strong flavored assam tea, a more classic tea for chai base. Follow the recipe for base No.1, but substitute 25 grams of Assam Satrupa loose black tea (about 1/4 cup, heaping.) Also add 1/2 tsp cardamom if doing your own spice blend.
Chai Base No. 1 or Chai Base No. 2: Preparing for Serving
Sweeten to taste with any of the following:
* any good honey
* Ginger Spice syrup
* Cinnamon syrup
* Vanilla syrup
We like about 1-2 Tablespoons per 8 oz cup of chai of any sweetener listed above, but my favorite is the Ginger Spice syrup. Try combinations.
Add more milk powder, if you wish, for extra creaminess.
Rave review: if a 6 year old is any indication, when Brianna shows up at the office her first question is “Nonny, can I have chai?” She loves experimenting with spices and sweeteners, but she does “thumb down” the Spicy Chai Powder blend.. It’s so peppery it makes her cough and her eyes water.
More about the Spicy Chai Powder spice blend: This mixture is much closer to the chai masala or chai spice mixture that you would encounter in an authentic homemade Indian Chai. When at home, they love their chai spicy!! The spicy “bite” comes both from the amount of ginger and the pepper. As we say Up North… UFFDA! (powder ingredients: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, and black pepper.)