I won’t lie—I would pick chai over coffee any day. Chai has always had a special place in my heart. My family has long served it as a way to welcome people into our home and spend time with those we care about. Whenever my parent’s friends would stop by, even just to drop something off, they’d always invite whoever it was in for a cup of chai. Obviously, that would then turn into a two-hour conversation and catch-up in the living room, but that’s beside the point. It just meant more cups of chai.
My one caveat with any masala chai recipe is that everyone has their own “best” version. Every aunty I know has their own spice proportions and methods, but I love every cup the same. It’s their own version of sharing love. Looking back now, I kind of get all wispy and nostalgic about moments shared over a cozy handmade mug full of chai. And since I don’t live at home anymore where a fresh kettle of chai was just one ask away, I had to start finding my own formula.
That, dear readers, is how we ended up here. This is my own version of the best masala chai recipe, tested over the years and tweaked to meet my cravings and memories.
images by Michelle Nash
What Makes the Best Masala Chai Recipe
On my journey to finding what the best blend of chai was that I could make on my own, I went on a bit of a scavenger hunt. To say I tried every chai I could find in my city would be a bit of an exaggeration, but I did my fair share of sampling. I did everything from sampling chai at all the local coffee shops to drinking bottled options from grocery stores to even testing several different chai concentrates and starters on the market. So what did my taste tests reveal?
1. A lot of ready-made chai is just too sweet for my preferences.
2. They’re missing the depth of flavor that comes from the co-mingling of spices, aka they are either too ginger- or cinnamon-forward in taste.
3. They don’t wrap up the feeling of getting a hug in a cup from your aunty.
I don’t know that there will ever be a chai that is as great as your mom’s or grandmother’s version. (I swear I’ve followed my mom’s recipe EXACTLY and it still doesn’t taste as good as when she makes it.) But what I’ve put together here is about as classic as it can get while also giving everyone room to experiment and tailor the flavors to their liking.
The Formula for Making Masala Chai
Every family I know has their own special version and secret (or not-so-secret) spice blend that makes their chai special. But for the most part, all of these masala chai recipes follow a certain formula:
- Black tea
- Assorted spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves)
That’s the thing about chai. It’s not really a true recipe. It’s more like a set of guidelines and suggestions to follow to create a delicious cup of goodness.
Tips for Making the Tastiest Chai
While I normally make drinks without sweeteners, you absolutely need a little bit of sweetness in chai for it to taste right. Most of the spices that are used in a chai blend lean towards bitter and earthy flavors when on their own. So if you don’t add sugar and have lots of spices that are naturally bitter, you’re going to end up with a drink that’s got a little bit of kick to it, but it won’t taste quite right or like a real chai. I’m not saying you need to add a lot of sugar, but finding that balance of sweetness helps to temper the spices and smooth out the flavor.
Other notes I’ve discovered from testing gallons on gallons of chai:
- Fresh-crushed spices are leaps and bounds ahead of powdered or pre-packaged blends.
- Toasting those fresh spices make a world of difference in releasing those flavored and aromatic spice oils.
- Chopping or grating the ginger helps infuse that spicy flavor more than just slicing rounds of the root. If you prefer a subtle ginger flavor, keep as cut rounds.
- It can be so much fun trying out different spice combinations. Experiment to your heart’s content!
I like making a batch of chai to store in the fridge, serving over ice the next morning in place of an iced latte. But IMO, chai tastes best when made hot and fresh. I do hope you’ll give this a try and let me know what spice combinations and proportions you like. Chai is one of these amazing recipes that everyone can put their own signature spin on—I would love to know yours.
This post was originally published on February 16, 2020, and has since been updated.
- 8 whole peppercorns
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 cloves
- 10-12 green cardamom pods
- 4 inches of ginger, cut into thin rounds
- 2 cups of water, room temperature
- 2 cups of milk, room temperature
- 1-2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 - 3 tbsp dried black tea (I prefer CTC Assam black tea)
*This will give you a basic chai recipe, if you prefer different flavors, add extra spices and experiment with what you like!
- Add all of the whole spices to a mortar and pestle and crush into large pieces.
- Bring a stove top pot up to a low/medium heat and add the crushed spices, toast for about 1-2 minutes until fragrant, then add the ginger and continue toasting for another minute until the spices start becoming very aromatic.
- Add the water and black tea to the pot and bring to a light boil. Let light boil for about a minute.
- Add the milk and let simmer. Do the double boil method. Turn the heat up to a medium high and let the milk simmer up the sides of the pot, removing the pot from the heat before it boils over. Place back onto the heat, and let simmer up the sides of the pot one more time. Remove the pot from the heat before it boils over. Turn off the heat.
- Strain chai through a strainer into cup, serve hot. Enjoy!
Share this Post
I am constantly trying to my perfect my chai at home (and cafes that get it right are few and far between). Thanks for this!
I have genuinely never tried Chai! It’s something I’d definitely love to make now.
Beckie || The Pale Tails
Just pinned this yummy recipe 🙂 xoxo
Thanks for the recipe! I can’t wait to try it out this weekend. I love chai and, depending on my mood, will switch from super sweet to more traditional. I’m not going to lie – I love that sickly sweet Trader Joe’s chai powder in lieu of desert though. There’s a guy in my hometown that makes a “yogic” chai and sells it to all the coffee shops, and it’s pretty good though more on the spicy side.
Eva | http://www.shessobright.com
I always look forward to warm chai whenever I visit India. I don’t often order it in shops because it’s just not the same thing… your recipe looks pretty authentic. going to have to try it out!
Sugar Coated Things x Beauty Blog
I followed the recipe to the letter and the mix curdled. I think it is caused by adding fresh ginger before the water – milk mix is brought to a boil. I am not sure this recipe will ever work out in its current form.
Hi Carmina! I’ve never had the milk curdle when making this. If you think it’s the ginger you could try grating it for smaller pieces or adding after the liquid is warmed to get the flavor! Hope that helps!
I should also note you don’t need to bring it up to a full boil, just a light simmer and then remove from heat!
That’s strange, I have never had this problem either and I make a lot
Thank you! I am always on the search for a good chai. It is almost impossible to find a place that makes it from scratch. I have never felt that my home version was quite right either. I have searched all over the internet for a good recipe. Your combination of spices (more cardamom than usual), pounding and toasting them, and chopping the ginger made all the difference. I will cut back on the milk a little next time but the flavor is perfect. Thank you!
I love chai lattes! I definitely need to try this recipe out!
My Somali friend says it tastes exactly like home. But we never warm up the honey. Just add in the mug.
Love chai tea! Its my favorite!
Thanks for the recipe and the images are gorgeous.
Going to try this!
Looking forward to try this yummy recipe! If you were to store this in the fridge, how long will it last?
Hi! Looks delicious. I love tea! Where did you buy the white saucepan?
I believe I got it from Amazon a few years ago – search for an enamel spouted milk pot and you should find something similar!
How many cups does it make? That seems a lot of spices for one cup
Hey Gloria – this makes 6 cups of chai!
It’s exactly how my Mom makes it?! ?Love the website by the way ???
Is it possible to replace the black tea with something herbal instead? I don’t drink black/white/green tea.
Hey Ana – I don’t recommend swapping in an herbal tea for the black tea here – the flavors won’t quite work together.
Finally!!! I’ve tried so many chai recipes trying to recreate a few awesome homemade chais I’ve gotten at coffee shops and I find none of them have the right flavor. I love a really spicy chai, so I just doubled the spice recipe but kept the milk/water, tea and sugar amounts the same. It’s PERFECT. Agree with others that the spice ratios are perfect and I love the extra cardamom flavor. So happy. I’ve tried steeping overnight, but I find that the crushing of the seeds (used my dry vitamix) and toasting, then simmering worked perfectly to infuse flavor.
Thank you so much, Hannah! So glad to hear you enjoyed this recipe, it’s an all time favorite (:
Could this recipe be modified to be herbal, aka without the black tea leaves?
Hello! I can’t drink tea because of nausea. Is there anyway to make this without?
Unfortunately masala chai cannot be made without tea, but making a spiced milk could provide a similar taste!