Masala Chai

Preparing Masala Chai (‘mixed-spice tea’) takes more work than rustling up a quick cup of tea- but this beautifully aromatic, warming drink is well worth the extra effort.

Preparation time: 5 minutesCooking time: 20 minutes
Infusion time: At least 20 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Serves: 3 to 4 small cups


  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 black peppercorns
  • A thick 4 cm slice of fresh ginger, or a teaspoon of ground ginger
  • A whole nutmeg, or one teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • A cinnamon stick, or one teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 500ml/5dl/just under a pint/2 cups of milk
  • 500ml/5dl/just under a pint/2 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of black tea leaves, or 2 teabags (preferably Assam)

Make it vegan: substitute the milk with soya, almond or oat milk

Special equipment

  • A large, heavy bottomed saucepan with a lid
  • A pestle and mortar
  • A tea strainer
  • A warmed teapot


  1. Prepare the spices: crush the cardamoms, cloves and peppercorns using a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, try to gently break the cloves and peppercorns apart with your fingers and split the cardamom pods open with a knife. If using fresh ginger, cut it into thin slices and if using a whole nutmeg, grate it. You only need about half a teaspoon of grated nutmeg.
  2. Add the cardamoms, cloves, peppercorns, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon to a large, heavy bottomed saucepan along with the milk and water.
  3. Place the pan over a medium heat and bring its contents to a boil. Stir the liquid before placing a lid on the pan and turning off the heat. Leave the spices, milk and water to infuse for at least 20 minutes. If you have time, leave them for a few hours- the longer the better!
  4. When ready, turn the hob back on and bring the contents of the pan to a boil before, once again, turning off the heat. Add the tea and sugar to the pan and stir before replacing the lid. Allow the Chai to steep for five minutes.
  5. Carefully strain the Chai into cups using a tea strainer. Alternatively, pour the Chai into a warmed teapot, then strain it into cups when ready to serve.
  6. Bon Appetit!


  • The spices listed here are just some of the spices you can use to make Masala Chai. You can alter how much of each spice you use according to taste, or substitute these spices with others of your choice. Other commonly used spices and flavourings include bay leaves, star anise, fennel, black cardamom, saffron, chili, coriander, cumin or liquorice root: for sweeter flavours, try vanilla, honey, rose petals or almonds. To make Noon Chai, use green tea leaves instead of black.
  • If you are a fan of Masala Chai, you can make the spice blend in advance. Prepare ten times as much of each spice as you would use to make one serving of Masala Chai. Pour the spices into a large, airtight jar, close the lid firmly, and shake the jar until the spices are thoroughly combined. Then just use a few teaspoons of the spice blend when you want to make some Chai.
  • For best results leave the spices, milk and water to infuse in the pan for as long as possible, preferably for at least a couple of hours. And try to avoid pre-ground spices if you can- grated whole nutmeg and sliced fresh ginger give much better results than their pre-ground counterparts!


Home: India

Pronunciation: (mass-allah-chai)

Relatives: Noon Chai (Kashmir), Hong Kong Tea (Hong Kong), Teh Tarik (South East Asia)


The history of Masala Chai stretches back thousands of years- perhaps as far back as 9,000 years ago! But Masala Chai didn’t contain tea and wasn’t drunk recreationally until relatively recently. Historically, it was exclusively made using various spices and was taken for medicinal purposes. One legend states that the healing properties ascribed to the spice blends which now flavour Masala Chai were discovered long ago by a Buddhist traveler. According to another story, they were discovered by the 7th century CE Pushyabhuti king Harshavardhana. The Masala spices are also associated with the Ayerveda system of Indian medicine. Meaning ‘The Science of Life’ in Sanskrit, Ayerveda has been around since the era of the vast, ancient Indus Valley Civilization, which was contemporaneous to the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. The oldest known Ayurveda text dates to the 6th century BCE: such ancient texts taught medical practices such as surgical techniques and herbal remedies. The Masala spice blend is one such remedy named in the Ayervedic texts and has been used as an Ayervedic medicine in Ayurveda for a very long time.

Tea is a comparatively recent addition to Masala Chai. A commonly used tea is Assam tea. This tea is named after its place of origin, the north eastern Indian state of Assam, which is also home to several other varieties of black, green and white tea. According to the Bengal Kali Purana text, the historical region that is now Assam was once ruled by the Naraka dynasty, the last of whom was slain by Krishna, the god of love and tenderness. After the Naraka era Assam was incorporated into the Gupta Empire (4th-6th century CE) before later forming much of the Kamarupa State (4th-13th century CE), which later split into the Ahom Kingdom (13th-19th century CE) and the neighbouring Chutiya and Dimasa kingdoms. The region was subsequently invaded by the Mughal and Burmese Empires before being occupied by the British from the late 18th century. Assam was formally annexed in 1838.

Tea was becoming phenomenally popular in Britain by this point. As such, the British wanted to move in on the tea trade, which was then the domain of Imperial China. After waging the destructive Opium Wars against China Britain began to dominate Asian tea exports. Assam’s Camellia Sinensis plant was cultivated for tea and exported but black tea, which was very expensive, wasn’t popular in India itself. As a result, the (British) Indian Tea Association tried to encourage its consumption in India, in the British style- that is, with milk and some sugar. Indian Chaiwalas (Chai vendors) got around the extortionate costs of the black tea peddled by the ITA by using only small amounts of tea, which they flavoured with copious amounts of milk, sugar and traditional spice mixes.

Tea garden in Assam
Kaushik s, TeaGardenOfAssam, 2007 [accessed 09/03/2020] (commons license:

Modern Masala Chai– a mix of black tea, milk, sugar and ancient spice blends-was born. Over the twentieth century the beverage has grown and grown in popularity, both in India and worldwide.

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