This deliciously spiced, creamy masala chai recipe comes from Josh Temple. Josh is an amateur home chef who is fascinated by the art and science of cooking. He loves taking familiar dishes from good to great by improving the technique or ingredients. Masala chai is a sweet, spiced, milky tea drink traditionally served hot. Josh has been experimenting with masala chai for the last year and graciously offered his recipe. The recipe was developed from a combination of online research, visiting his wife’s family in Kerala, and lots of experimentation. I interviewed Josh to learn more about his learnings — read on below!
What was your inspiration for developing this masala chai recipe?
My wife’s family is from Kerala and I quickly got into the habit of drinking masala chai during our visits there. I don’t regularly drink caffeine, but I was drinking so much chai in India that I started getting caffeine headaches when we came back to the US after our last trip! I decided to learn to make it on my own, but l wanted it to be as authentic and tasty as I remembered.
Tell me about a fond memory you have of drinking masala chai.
When quarantine started in New York City last year, my wife Meera and I would make a pot of masala chai around 3:30 every afternoon, grab a mug, and take a lap around the park across the street from our apartment. It was a sweet break from the sameness of each work-from-home day and it became a moment we looked forward to every day.
Tell me more about the process of developing this recipe. What did you learn from your research? What types of experiments did you try?
To start, I did a lot of research, I watched videos of chai wallahs on YouTube and I read a bunch of recipes—some from chefs, some from foreign chai addicts like myself, and some from Indian home kitchens. Whenever I’m working on a dish, I try to read different versions of a recipe until I understand which steps or ingredients are “must-haves” and which are open for experimentation. Every dish has certain ingredients or techniques that define its flavor, but there’s always room for creative expression. The key is understanding where to get creative and where to stick to the norm.
With masala chai, the tried-and-true formula is black tea, milk, and whole spices (cardamom is the star of the show). That’s about as far as you can generalize. Within India, there are many variants of masala chai and so there are tons of options for customizing to your taste: adjust the ratios of spices, use more or less sugar, use nondairy milk, tweak the milk:water ratio, change the steeping time for the tea… the list goes on.
I also learned that the freshness of the whole spices is important. When I swapped out my stale, 3-year-old cardamom pods for a new batch, my masala chai went from decent to delicious. It’s a good reminder that simple dishes (like drinks) benefit from the best ingredients you can find.
I definitely echo keeping your spices fresh. When I first tried this recipe, I was also using stale cardamom from several years ago. Fresh cardamom makes a world of difference. Do you have any recommendations for where to purchase whole spices?
For purchasing whole spices, start with your local Indian or specialty grocery store, as they usually have good supply chains in place for quality. Amazon is another option if you can’t find a store like this, but you may have to purchase in bulk. There are good guides for appraising spice quality online (for any readers, if you need a guide on spices, please take a look at my All About Spices guide), but use your nose! If a delightful aroma is there, the flavor will follow.
What are the most important tips you’d give to someone who is new to making this type of tea? Any suggestions on how to extract the most flavor from the spices?
Masala chai is all about extracting flavor compounds in the tea and in the spices from solids to a liquid. Because some of these flavor compounds dissolve better in fat than in water, we use a long steep in milk for maximum extraction. Trust me, your patience will be rewarded! We also toast the whole spices beforehand to increase the complexity of their flavors. Once you’re comfortable with the technique, play with the recipe until the result is just the way you like it.
I can confirm first hand how tasty and easily flexible this recipe is, as I’ve made it at least once a week for the last two months! I regularly play around with the type of milk (dairy and non-dairy), spices, and steep times. Use this recipe as a baseline and adjust to your own taste preferences. For example, I will sometimes replace some of the water with more milk for a creamier consistency. I’ll also add more spice or steep the spices (or the tea) longer for a stronger flavor. If I’m looking for a sweeter chai, I’ll add more sugar. There are truly infinite ways to make this your own.
Recipe: Josh’s Masala Chai
- 3 pods green cardamom
- 1 half stick cinnamon
- 3 black peppercorns
- 2 cloves
- 1 inch piece of ginger, unpeeled and sliced
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp loose-leaf black tea, CTC; I like Assam
- 1.5 cups water
- 1 cup whole milk or full-fat oat milk
- Lightly crush cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorns, and cloves into small pieces with the back of a knife or a mortar. No need to finely crush the spices – the main purpose is to open up the cardamom pods and increase the surface area of the other spices a bit for toasting.
- In a medium-sized pot, toast spices over medium heat until fragrant, 30s-1m.
- Add water, milk, ginger, and sugar to the pot.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a healthy simmer, and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes to infuse the spices. You should be able to taste the spices prominently at this point.
- Add 1 tbsp of loose leaf black tea (CTC) and let simmer for 2-3 minutes until the tea reaches your desired strength.
- Strain into mugs and serve hot.
- CTC tea is a type of tea produced using a process that cuts, tears, and curls the tea into small pellets. You can absolutely use a different type of black tea, but you may need to adjust the steep time and amount of tea.
- There are so many variations of masala chai throughout India and the diaspora, so don’t feel like you need to stick to this particular combination. For example, the region where my parents are from uses lemongrass in their tea. Some families steep other spices, like star anise, nutmeg, or mace.
- After the 10-15 minute steep, taste to check on your milk. If the flavor is too subtle, continue steeping the milk. Also, note that different milks will affect the flavor. Oat milk will bring a different flavor to this chai compared to regular milk. Chai made with creamier milk will taste different than a low-fat milk — we recommend full-fat products.
- For an iced masala chai, cool the mixture to room temperature then store in the fridge in an airtight container until chilled. Serve over ice.