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  • Writer's pictureOne Good Knife Spices

Chai Masala - The Chai Tea Vs Masala Chai

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Many American households wake up to the smell of coffee. In India and almost all former British colonies it is the smell of tea that ushers in the morning. Strong-sweet smells of spice fills the air. While the sun reminds us it is time to get up, the smell of chai puts a stamp on its definiteness. Just like coffee, tea too has it's nuances in flavor, tannins and acidity. To enjoy a delicious cup of tea first requires using the right black tea leaves.

We were downright blessed living in Kenya. Kericho county is infamous for its tea and coffee growing highlands. It is an incredibly beautiful area. Imagine miles and miles of rolling hills covered in bright lush green tea plantations. It is quite a sight in the morning; an experience to behold. Cool fresh air, birds chirping in the distance, morning dew sparkling off young leaves as the fog lifts to uncover long stretches of endless tea plants. This is my memory of Kericho in my youth as we drove past on a road trip. It has forever been a magical image in my mind as tea became a plant to revere.

In India tea has taken on an avatar of its own. With tea comes life, vitality and renewal. So important is tea in India that many people start and end their day with a cup. A group of people called chaiwallas make tea all day long serving them on the streets. Some chaiwallas more popular than others as theirs is a favored recipe. I probably ought to mention chai means tea in India so a chai tea latte translates to a tea tea latte. What is being massively promoted as chai teas in America is really masala chai. Masala means spice hence a spiced tea. There is no actual recipe for the spices used in the masala mix. Each household has their own preference and traditions are carried forward.

My mother hails from a chaiwalla family. They would be up before the crack of dawn making pots of masala chai for the early workers who would flood the city streets of Ahmedabad, India. They would churn out hundreds of cups as they too drank several throughout the day. We as a family do not take our masala chai lightly. From the tea leaves to the spice blend, sugar and milk we know what we like and what we don't!

Let's make the distinction! It started when chai tea lattes hit the US market and became all the rage. Let me admit I've had my share of chai tea lattes ranging from the local coffee shop to Starbucks. I have no qualms with the chai tea lattes as such since they have managed to carve a name for themselves in the market. But as much as I have much respect for the tea leaves I feel the process of making the tea is just as important. All ingredients have their role to play in the final cup. Malty, creamy, spicy and sweet a cup of chai has to be made right. Most chai teas at these coffee shops are syrupy sweet made with a premix in a carton which is heated and poured into a cup. I truly hope these mass produced cups of premix aren't confused with a real Indian chai. This just makes the masala chai running in my veins boil!

Masala chai is a cup of love, heritage and tradition. I would love for all to enjoy a real cup of masala chai as it is enjoyed in the streets of India. As you're making your cup imagine a Bollywood song playing through a crackling rickshaw radio, the smell of the masala filling your nostrils, warm sweet liquid filling your mouth as you take your first sip. All suddenly feels right in the world.



Makes 2 cups

1 cup whole milk

1 cup water

1 tablespoons loose leaf black tea leaves

1/2 tablespoon sugar (to your preference)

In a pot add all the ingredients and bring to a boil on a medium heat.

When the tea comes to a boil drop the temperature to a medium-low. Simmer for about 2-3 minutes while stirring.

Strain the masala chai into your cup. Enjoy hot!

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Uyen Lisemby
Uyen Lisemby
Aug 17, 2020

Just order mine and can’t wait to taste it! Cinnamon, gloves , nutmeg and ginger sounds like a wonderful combination and reminds me of the holiday seasons coming.

As always, it’s a pleasure to read your posts! Your love, passion and knowledge for food are inspiring! I love all the stories behind each dish that you make. It’s so nice to read or learn about one’s heritage and tradition! Thank you for sharing yours!

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