Welcome to The Storied Recipe!
My podcast guest, Karthika Gupta shared this special Indian Chai Masala powder that her mother used to make their daily tea – and she now makes for her family. I invite you to listen to her episode, “Mornings, Math, and Chai Masala” as you drink a cup of Indian tea spiced with her own Masala spice blend.
Close your eyes and imagine a long pause where you take a warming sip from the perfect cup of Indian Masala Chai. Allow yourself to be enveloped by the tea’s fragrant steam and sweet, spicy flavor.
According to Karthika (and now I quite agree), there is nothing as nourishing and comforting as a cup of Indian Masala tea.
Every morning between 5am and 7am was Karthika and her mom's special time together. Karthika’s mother cooked while Karthika did her homework. Together, they talked quietly and drank from a bottomless pot of chai spiced with a pinch of this very powder.
Table of Contents (Jump To Section)
What to Expect from this Chai Masala Spice Blend: Flavor
- Let's get the terminology straight first:
- Linguistically, a cup of chai is simply a cup of tea. Chai is the Hindi word for tea.
- Masala chai is a drink that's a combination of tea, spices, and (usually) milk.
- Masala Chai powder is an aromatic blend of whole spices (or spice powders) to add to tea.
- A little bit goes a long way - usually just ¼ teaspoon or ½ teaspoon per cup.
- In Hindi, the powder is called Chai ka Masala
How to Make the Perfect Cup of Chai (Tea) Using Homemade Chai Masala Powder
Karthika says in indian households chai is not just a drink, it's a way of life, even a religion. Every household will make their own version, so just use the information below as a guide.
As you look for recipes, "Chai Tea" is redundant. . It's like saying Tea Tea. If you find a recipe with "Chai Tea" in the title, its probably not authentic.
- In terms of proportions, use about ¼ teaspoon of chai masala : 1 cup of water : 1 teaspoon of loose tea (or one tea bag) : 1 cup of milk
- Add the pinch of masala powder, cup of water, and tea to a pot
- Bring to a boil. Then, turn heat down and allow to simmer until tea is desired color/strength
- Add a cup of milk (per cup of milk) and allow to boil again. Simmer until desired thickness and flavor
- Strain the tea through a small sieve so the tea and spice blend are filtered out
- Note: This is why you'll want to grind the chai masala into a coarser rather than a finer powder; so it can strain out properly
Other Uses for this Chai Masala Spice Blend:
In addition to making the popular Indian tea, you can use the masala powder for so many things:
- Starbucks Iced Chai Latte
- tea with milk
- Ice cream
- Cinnamon rolls
Spices in Karthika's Traditional Blend
- Karthika's recipe calls for green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and bay leaves
- Fresh ginger is not in Karthika's recipe, although ground ginger is
- Other spices to try: dry rose petals, fennel seeds, holy basil seeds, star anise
- Karthika's recipe does not call for dry roasting the spices. Some recipes say do, others say there's no difference with roasted spices. You can experiment yourself.
Is Chai Masala healthy?
Yes! Chai Masala has been a part of the Ayurvedic Health tradition for many years.
Below are the health benefits of each ingredient.
Health Benefits of Each Ingredient
- Ginger - anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation AND increases dopamine and serotin. Altogether good for anxiety, depression
- Green cardamom - also turned to for anti-nausea and treating short-term and even-long term digestive issues
- Bay leaves - more digestive aids, plus source of vitamins and antioxidants,
- Cloves – antioxidants so heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes
- Black peppercorns - again, high in antioxidants. For more information, read here.
- Cinnamon - nothing proven, but you can read possible benefits here.
Does Masala Chai have caffeine?
- Chai masala powder does not have caffeine on its own - its just a blend of spices to add to tea.
- However, a cup of Masala Chai will have caffeine if you choose a caffeinated tea.
- Choose a caffeine-free tea if you'd like to avoid the effects of caffeine.
Is Chai Masala gluten free?
Yes, definitely. The spices in the masala powder, the tea, the milk, and sugar are all gluten free.
Origins of Chai Masala Blend
- It's difficult to pinpoint the origins of tea masala powder, as the tradition of drinking spices brewed in hot water goes back at least 5000 years.
- According to Amala Chai, the common tradition of tea mixed with milk and masala powder goes back to British colonialism when Indians couldn't afford the very tea they were growing under British rule.
- Read this longer article from Leena Trivedi-Grenier to learn more about the development of the tea industry in India and Masala Chai as an act of resistance.
Equipment You May Need
- A spice grinder is essential - you cannot do this in a food processor
- Alternatively, you can also a mortar and pestle
- These tea infuser baskets can work as a tea basket for loose leaf tea/masala powder or a small sieve to strain the teabag and masala powder.
How to Store
- In an airtight container at room temperature
- Store up to up to 3 months
- However, flavor will adjust and diminish over times so try making in small batches that will last for about 2 months
Born and raised in the diverse city of Bombay (Mumbai), India, Karthika later moved to the US.
At the time Karthika’s beloved mother fell ill several years ago, Karthika was experiencing a personal renaissance as she transitioned from a career in computer science to photography.
When Karthika traveled back to India to care for her mother, she entered a period of self-reflection and out of this search for identity was born her enlightening podcast and captivating website, both named “Culturally Ours”.
Karthika touches on all of these things in this episode, but especially on memories of her mother, with whom Karthika shared the calm, peaceful morning hours for years and years. During these peaceful hours morning hours, Karthika’s mom cooked, Karthika studied, and they both drank from a bottomless pot of chai masala. Could a memory be any sweeter?
Karthika Memories of Chai Masala
One of my favorite drinks any time of day is Indian chai. Like any Indian household, chai is not only a staple but also a very necessary drink. It can be had at any time of the day and the more the merrier. One of my favorite things to do growing up was to have chai with my mom first thing in the morning.