Masala Chai

The Humble Masala Chai

In the recent decade masala chai has spread from the heart of the Indian subcontinent to the rest of the world. Though thought of as a fancy, ‘exotic’ and classy beverage in the west, it remains a bare necessity to all in India. If you ever happen to take a morning walk down a street in Mumbai, at the break of dawn, you would notice the beggars waiting for the first brew of chai to be made from the road side tea stalls.  By midday you would notice workers, shoppers, businessmen sharing a glass of half-cut chai. One’s working day will have a never ending number of chai breaks, so chaiwallas meet the demand and even deliver.

The typical chai vendor or ‘chaiwalla’ serves the tea in small glass tumblers. Half-cut chai is an option when you are sharing a chai with someone. You split one cup of chai into two, and you’ve got a half-cut chai. A popular and very strange way of drinking chai in India is by serving it in a cup on a saucer. The hot chai is then poured by the drinker into the saucer and slurped down. This way of drinking chai is indeed strange but very clever. The hot chai cools faster in the saucer due to its wide surface area, now just try that with your earl gray!

If you are making some masala chai at home, it is important to keep all the elements balanced. There is no need to buy instant mixes or masala tea bags, the cheapest black tea leaves available will do. You must select your own spices according to your taste and preference, some of the best chais are flavored with just crushed ginger and cardamom. Keep it simple, you don’t want to overdo it.

Now to make your cup of chai, take half a cup of water(or less depending how milky you want it). Put it in a saucepan and add the crushed spices, bring it to a boil. Now add your tea leaves, how much depends on how strong you want it. Keep it boiling and add a half cup of milk(or more). Then give it a solid dose of sugar – a good couple of teaspoons. Don’t stop there! Keep it boiling, to give it some more strength. The longer the stronger!

You will have to experiment to get your chai precisely to your liking, play with the spices, adjust the boiling time. A good chai should have balance & harmony between the bitterness from the tea, sweetness from the sugar, the soothing milk and the hit from the spices. Nothing dominant or too overpowering.

The world has started using chai in cookies, puddings, ice cream and even serving desserts with a chai tea foam.The introduction of tea was one of the biggest boons left by the British Empire and India made it its own. Selling the best tea leaves in the world, it also gives us the best masala chai. Chai, as it travelled, has evolved from the strong ‘kadak’ masala chai in India to the lighter chai tea ‘lattes’ in the west. Tea time is very important to the Indian culture, anytime is chai time! So get that pot boiling and drink it the Indian way, with a slurp. You can never have enough chai breaks in a day!