Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest Post: Living the Chai Life

Arriving in India following a rather unsettling and turbulent flight, my initial instinct was to find a good cup of coffee to prepare myself for the utter chaos that was Trivandrum. Searching high and low through the fume-filled racetracks of India's highways and sidling around various farmyard animals inhabiting the dusty back streets there wasn't a coffee to be found. Shock horror!

As a highly indulgent caffeine addict at home in the UK, the idea of spending the next six months without coffee honestly scared me. It took a few sleepy days to realize that the 1.5 billion inhabitants who contribute to the sub-continent's somewhat orderly chaos seem to rely on something equally as potent and energizing as the world's much loved espresso: chai!

Chai can be found everywhere. From humble stands littering every street, the much-loved chai wallahs aboard the intricate and highly efficient train network to upmarket restaurants, Chai is in abundance and when you try it, it's not hard to see why.

A chai wallah in Mumbai

Usually made with full fat milk, robust, black Assam tea and a heinous serving of sugar, the sweet, creamy, steaming concoction is served in tiny glasses not much bigger than a shooter. It's said that every Indian family has their own secret recipe, adding various spices to make what's known as Masala Chai. Having covered over 8 states in 6 months, Connie and I found ourselves involuntary connoisseurs, sampling a new blend in every city.

Though most recipes are a closely guarded secret I did manage to pick up a few tips and additions to make a great brew. This recipe is a rough guide that should give you something resembling authentic. You can add any spice you like, I just tried making it with white pepper for some interesting, though not unpleasant results!

Ingredients: (to yield 4 cups)
  • Whole milk*
  • Water*
*In equal parts, measured out with the cups you'll be drinking from
  • 8 - 12 tsps sugar (remember, chai is meant to be VERY sweet, you can adjust accordingly)
  • 6 tsps loose black chai
  • 1 pod of cardamom
  • 1 cinnamon stick (can be used a few times)
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • Sprinkling of nutmeg


Stir the milk, water, sugar and spices (except the cardamom) in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. It's important that the liquid fills only half of the pan as it will expand during cooking so use a pan big enough.

Place on a moderate to high heat and stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Allow the milk to boil until it's frothing rapidly. When the milk starts to expand and climbs toward the top of the pan, add the chai and cardamom.

Keep stirring so that the liquid doesn't boil over and the mixture starts to take on a brown tan colour (you may have to turn the heat down a little if the boiling is too vigorous).

Take off the heat after about 30 seconds to a minute and pour through a strainer into a tea pot.

Serve and enjoy!
Note: Once the milk starts to boil the whole process becomes very rapid so don't leave it unattended otherwise you'll be literally crying over spilled milk. When chai is allowed to cool a little for drinking, a film tends to accumulate on the top. Don't be put off, this is very normal. It just means you made it right!

Matt Burchell is, among other things, my boyfriend. He's pretty cool. He likes to cook and eat, just like me. Matt is originally from London, England but was most recently calling Brighton "home" before he set out to travel the world in January of 2010. Matt has a photo blog though he finds little time to post new photos on it. When he does, they are usually pretty good ones. You can find Matt sporadically at Roam From Home

© Connie Hum 2011


  1. Thanks for sharing the chai recipe! You really do brew up a mean cup of Indian chai! Readers, just note: DO NOT drink this brew late at night. It will seriously have you up until dawn! I hope you test the recipe out and let us know what you think!

  2. I am a HUGE fan of chai - currently drinking far too much of the fake Starbucks one - can't wait to try this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sounds so yummy! I'm going to try it myself if I can ever find the spices here in Italy! :)

  4. @Jayne I used to drink the Starbucks version all the time as well but it tastes NOTHING like the real Indian chai! Try the recipe out. I think it will blow your mind! =)

    @Annie I think the ingredients are quite common so you shouldn't have too difficult a time finding them. If you can't find the chai, I think you can substitute regular black tea but will need to use a little more than what the recipe calls for. Good luck!

  5. It's so easy and fun to make, and so much cheaper and better than all the commercial products out there.

  6. Have you ever brewed coffee using a couple of pods of cardamom? It's delish. That with a coupleof sugar cookies...my favorite way to start a Sunday.

  7. @Miss Footloose Amen to that!

    @Jack and Jill Travel The World I think you just revolutionized my morning rituals! Thanks for the coffee tip!


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