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How to brew the perfect cup of Masala Chai

Posted on Nov 08, 2013 by Tim Francis

HEALTH WARNING – reading this article may leave you with an addiction for the quest of making the finest masala chai – be warned.

A long, long time ago I lived in Peru. One evening at a party whilst discussing the amazing experience of living and working in such a country with other expats; I mentioned that the whole experience could only be improved with a good curry. It just happened that Dave was pretty well versed in this subject and advised that the beauty of such a country even if there isn’t curry houses or pastes and powders is that all of the fresh raw ingredients are available from the local markets. This fact coupled with an authentic recipe book produced by a fine Glasgow Indian Restaurant owner meant that for me Peru was complete. Why hadn’t I thought about this before? A whole new world opened up.

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Moving on a decade or so and I was in Bhutan for the 1st time. One evening after dinner, Trevor threw a curve ball and asked if it was possible to get a masala chai. We all knew that chai is generally a word for tea but masala chai? The masala chai arrived and one sip is all it took. From then on this was my must have evening drink.

Since that 1st experience I have visited Bhutan and India several times and part of that experience for me is masala chai – photos speak a thousand words but tastes and smells are a strong sensory experience that can take you instantly to a point in your memory. I have found a small kiosk in Delhi that sells packets of full leaf masala chai that has helped to feed my addiction to this wonderful drink. Each time that I have travelled through Delhi I have made sure that I have stocked up with supplies of this brown elixir. What a feeling of excitement I have contemplating that 1st brew back in the Highland Glens.

masala chai

The obvious problem is that eventually you run out and a ticket to India is quite a high cost for a good cup of tea. On the other hand there are other addictions that cost far more in many ways. So I have tried the teabag route. All I can say is that all of the companies producing chai tea bags (that I have tried) are all of an equal standard. Suffice to say I would rather go without. I once took apart one of the tea bags to get a look at the ingredients. It was truly outstanding.

From then I vowed never to purchase masala chai in the teabag format again! I have found a couple of companies that do provide a loose leaf format much the same as my source from Delhi. Even if not quite the same experience they have gone a long way to meet my requirements. Trendy cafés all now sell a chai latte which is nice but flavoured syrup is just that.

Last year I met Trevor again whilst on a Winter Walking trip in Scotland. The evening discussion got on to chai and Trevor dropped the fact that he makes his own masala chai mix. Wow it happened again – why haven’t I thought of this simple solution? I had studied the ingredients out of interest but never gone that step further and mixed my own. Pure genius. The fact is that all of the ingredients are readily available in our supermarkets and health food shops. Masala Chai literally means ‘mixed spice tea’ and getting the proportions right – now that is the magic.

There are hundreds of recipes on the web many of which stray from the real deal. What I have found is that the making of masala chai is much the same as the making of porridge in that each person has their own preferred way of making it and their own individual finishing touches. The beauty of making your own blend is that you can alter and experiment to suit your own taste. But you do need a starting point. So hold on and get ready for the best masala chai experience but remember the health warning at the start.

masala chai

1st you need to blend the ingredients. The following blend is enough for a brew a day for a week.

Ingredients

  • 8 whole cloves
  • 8 black pepper corns
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • 1 whole large stick of cinnamon (6”)
  • 1 tbsp ginger (I have used dried root then grated it)
  • 1 tbsp lemon grass
  • 1 tsp mint
  • 2 tbsp loose leaf black tea (I have used Assam tea)

Lightly grind the 1st 8 ingredients together using a mortar and pestle. You don’t need to make a powder as small chunks are ideal.

Pressing down on the star anise, cloves & cardamom is sufficient to break them up. The aroma at this point is amazing. The cinnamon stick will still have longish bits so just use your fingers to break it up to small sizes in keeping the rest of the mix. When you are happy, add the tea and mix all of the ingredients together to provide a uniform blend. Keep your Masala Chai Blend in an air tight container (on old tea caddy would be ideal).

The Brew (makes enough for 2 good mugs)

  • Add 1 tbsp of the Masala Chai blend to a saucepan
  • Add 1 tbsp of sugar to the pan
  • Add 1 pint of boiling water to the pan (it could be cold but this speeds the process up)
  • Add a large splash of milk to the pan
  • Bring the pan to the boil. Give the ingredients a good stir.
  • Cover the pan and leave to simmer on a low heat.
  • If you have an Aga then cover the pan and place it in the simmering oven.
  • I find that 10-15mins is all that is needed for the ingredients to simmer. Keep a check on the pan to ensure that it doesn’t boil over.

I tend to pour the Masala Chai into a teapot for serving. The teapot that I use has a strainer built into it and it keeps nicely warm sat on the top of the Aga. If you are keen then just pour directly into a mug (using a tea strainer to catch any bits). Traditionally Masala Chai is sweet and uses milk (condensed in many recipes). When poured leave a little room for additional milk and maybe a teaspoon of sugar (to your taste).

And that is it. Your journey has just begun. Om mani padme hum.

 

About the author

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Tim Francis

Tim's a passionate biker and hill-walker, who was a business development manager in a former life and spent 4 amazing years working in South America. Lucky for us he's returned to the Highlands to live and become a mountain biking and walking guide.

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