Food for Thought: Quali-tea masala chai

Dive into the cultural, political, or personal significance of food

Illustration of a person in thinking pose, with thought bubble above filled with image of a cup of chai
Masala chai is a customary Indian household staple. Illustration: Alyssa Marie Umbal / The Peak

By: Tamanna T., Staff Writer

Chai, more specifically masala chai, is a staple in every Indian household. Made with numerous herbs and spices, like cardamom (my favourite spice) and cloves, the aroma has become calming and nostalgic to me. Chai is now immensely popular in the West — it is readily available in grocery stores and your local Starbucksbut nothing compares to an Indian mother’s homemade blend.

I remember watching my mom make chai early every morning for my dad. As my parents grew older, I took on the responsibility of making chai most mornings until I left for university. Making chai is an integral part of many Indian people’s lives, and seeing that it has been well-received in Canada warms my heart (as long as no one says “chai tea,” which translates to “tea tea”).

Want to learn how to make Indian masala chai? There are a variety of recipes online, but an important aspect of making it is to use whole milk and brew it more than once, which creates a significant difference in the taste, quality, and aroma. For a dairy-free alternative, you can use any milk substitute like soy, almond, or oat milk. Out of these, my preference is almond milk.

Instead of sugar, I suggest using jaggery, an unrefined substitute primarily used in Asia and Africa. It’s a healthier alternative and can be found in any Indian store. You can use honey if jaggery is not readily available. 

Here is one way to make chai:

Masala chai (4 cups)

  1. The main ingredient is the chai powder. For an alternative, use loose tea leaves (preferably black tea) or tea bags.

2. Crush 2 clove sticks, 2–4 cardamom pods, 1–2 peppercorns, and ½ a cinnamon stick into a rough powder. Traditionally, a pestle is used, but you can use a spice grinder or even a pepper crusher. Doing this will bring out the flavour of the spices and ensure it has the magnificent aroma everyone loves.

3. Put 2 cups of water in a medium-size pot or saucepan, and add the chai powder or loose leaves. If you want to use tea bags, 3 or 4 is the preferred amount.

4. For more flavour, add ginger powder or raw ginger skins and fennel seeds to the pot. Then add the masala chai spices that were crushed before to the water. 

5. Bring the mixture to a light boil once and let it simmer on low heat for about 4–5 minutes. Allow tea to boil enough that the water turns into a dark concoction. 

6. Add sugar/jaggery/honey according to taste and preference. Next, add whole milk or an alternative milk. Adjust the amount of milk as needed, but 1 cup should be more than sufficient. 

7. Let the mixture simmer for a minute before bringing it to a boil again; let it thicken and the spices will blend together effortlessly.

8. Filter the chai into teacups or mugs, and enjoy!

If you’re wanting to experience authentic masala chai in Vancouver, you can check out Chai Wagon on Cambie St.