India and tea go fabulously together. The availability of a wide variety of well-priced tea probably ranks as the number one thing I love about India, alongside well-priced books.
The first thing we told ourselves when we knew we were going to have to move to India was “masala chai every day”.
Unfortunately, when we came to Vizag, we did not find any place that made a satisfactory cup of chai other than ONE over-priced place. There was no chai wala too. Chai here was always extremely milky (bad for lactose intolerant me) and did not deliver that spicy kick that we have come to expect from a good, hot cup of masala chai.
So when all else fails, make it yourself.
I checked out the many recipes on the internet. It was less difficult than I thought it would be but more effort than steeping a teabag in water. If you can get past the effort bit, you can make yourself a delicious cup of masala chai.
First, the ingredients. There are three main ingredient groups – black tea, milk and spices – though for spices, what you eventually choose boils down to preference. The two that you must have is green cardamom and cinnamon sticks. The list of commonly used spices are as follows:
- Green Cardamon (Elaichi) – essential
- Cinnamon Sticks (or strips/bark) – essential
- Cloves (for added depth)
- Fennel (for added sweetness)
- Ginger (for that warm spice edge)
- Black Pepper (for that extra kick BUT use extremely sparingly)
I got these spices from Trivandrum and Kochi in Kerela, a state known for their amazing spices (think Malabar peppers). Everything was extremely fresh and bursting with flavour – I could chomp on the black peppercorns raw.
The following makes about 3/4 of a teapot, good for 3-4 cups of tea (normal teacups, not the small chai cups). It is an estimate and you have to figure out, based on your own personal preference, how “spicy” you would like it to be but remember, the stronger the spice, the stronger your tea needs to be to balance it out.
- Prepare the spices – about 3-4 pods of green cardamon (with seeds removed from the pod), 1-2 cinnamon sticks, 4-5 five cloves, 2 pinches of fennel and 2 black peppercorns (use none if you do not want it to be spicy) – pound everything so that they are all nicely broken up with the flavour and scent released.
- Use the ratio 2:1 – 2 cups of water to 1 cup of milk – the traditional recipe uses more milk but I prefer to start with a bit more water and then boil the mixture to reduce it.
- Put the spices, milk and water into the pot to boil. If you have sliced ginger, put it in too. Again, if you do not like it to be spicy, use little or no ginger at all.
- As it starts to boil, add in your black tea leaves (about two tea-measuring spoons worth or 4 regular teaspoons). I recommend using strong black tea leaves. I cheat a bit and use a black tea that has ginger bits so I do not have to cut ginger.
- Bring everything to a simmer, tasting frequently until you get the balance that works for you.
- Strain out the spices and leaves. Some have suggested using a teabag but I like seeing the spices swimming in the pot.
And there you have it, a delicious cup of masala chai. Being lactose intolerant, I cannot have it every day but some days, it is a treat and the perfect way to start a day – especially now that the weather is cool.
For friends back home, if you want some green cardamon and/or black pepper, let me know – I have enough to share with a few from my little bag (since I do not use such huge quantities of it). I only ask for a cup of local Teh-C in return.