ashley englishsmall measures

Small Measures: Homemade Chai

by Ashley

When I was living in Washington, D.C., in my early 20s, two tandem events turned me into a homemade chai tea-maker. First, I was working as a retail clerk at a natural foods store with a juice and coffee bar. In an attempt to curb my coffee consumption, for nearly each shift I worked I’d order a hot chai and take it back to my station. And although I’d drink it, I found it to be far, far too sweet, as it came from a prepared, pre-sweetened mix.

Second, and almost equally without fail (I can be quite the creature of habit), every Saturday or Sunday morning (whichever one I wasn’t working), I’d hop on my bike and head over to the Teaism in Dupont Circle. Devoted to the teas of the world and their attendant cuisines, I’d order a bowl of Irish oats, a ginger scone and a mug of the restaurant’s exquisitely delicious, perfectly spiced, not-too-sweet hot chai.

Tired of the cloyingly sweet pre-packaged version I was getting at work and inspired by the version offered at Teaism, I eventually started making my own chai. For today’s Small Measures, I’m sharing my time-honed recipe with you. It couldn’t be easier, can be sweetened to your preference and fills your kitchen with the most invigorating aromas. This time of year I find it especially delectable, as the spiciness of cardamom and clove are perfectly suited to the season. Warm in the hands and warm in the belly, this chai recipe is a keeper. — Ashley English

Read the full post after the jump . . .

A Perfect Mug of Chai

The Goods

  • 4 c. cold water
  • 4–6 cardamom pods* (depending how intense you like your chai)
  • 4–6 cloves (per above)
  • 4–6 black peppercorns (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, chopped (optional)
  • 4 tsp. black tea (I use Darjeeling. You can also use three tea bags.)
  • 4–6 tsp. raw honey (to your preference)
  • 1/4 c. milk

*You’ll need to bruise your cardamom pods before adding them to the water, in order to expose the seeds inside. I do this by hitting them with the back of a spoon. Once cracked open, place the whole thing into the pot — pod, seeds and all!

The Deal

1. Add water and spices to a medium-sized stainless-steel pot. Bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Reduce heat to low, place tea in a tea strainer and add to a pot along with honey and milk. Simmer for 5 minutes.

3. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 5 minutes longer.

4. Remove and compost tea, and pour chai in two large mugs. I like to leave the spices in, but you can discard them if you prefer.

5. Sip and smile!

What about you? Got any tried-and-true chai-making tips? I’d love to hear them. Otherwise, I’m off to warm my fingers, belly and soul with a hot mug of spicy chai!

Photos and styling by Jen Altman

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  • Hey…this is the cardamom tea that people usually have everyday in India….the only addition is, during winters some people add Basil leaves (4-5) and simmer it along with the spices…it helps beat common cold/cough.

  • I must admit I only know the Starbucks Coffee version of Chai tea latte….and I absolutely love it !
    Maybe i’ll give a try to your true version, I have almost all the goods, except the cardamom pods…not sure if I can find this easily….

  • I have cardamoms (at least a year old) sitting in my spice cabinet for this purpose. Now this is such an easy recipe it’s hard to resist finally getting started on my hot chai habit. To make it even easier, I’d suggest buying fresh ginger in a tube (at your local grocery store in the vegetable/fruit section). It’s not cheap but it’s easier to cutting up your knob of ginger daily.

  • I love chai, Teaism’s especially. A big thing with chai is the portion size. When I had it in India it was always very sweet, but in a very small cup.

  • AMAZING! Chai tea are my favorite so this recipe is perfect for me. Thanks for sharing and love the way these photos are styled!

  • Yum! For those of us with sensitive tums: can you get good results with almond milk? Or, any other milk alternative suggestions?

  • Thank you so much for sharing! I will definitely try this recipe. Today is our first cool/grey day in Austin so it might just be the perfect day to give it a shot. I too think the prepackaged chai is way too sweet. I fell on love with chai on a recent trip to India and I can still visualize people making this on the street in huge stock pots and smell the spices in the air.

  • This is the Chai we Indians drink all the time. My versions vary with only ginger to only cardamom and at times the combinations. Minimal sugar lets you enjoy the flavors of the spices!

  • Yum! I love chai, and homemade too, I will have to try this recipe next time. Thanx for sharing :)

    Kelzuki- Starbucks makes a chai with soy milk, so though I have never tried it at home I am sure you could.

  • this is my tried and true recipe for chai (which i am drinking right now :) sometimes i use a can of coconut milk or hemp milk instead of dairy milk. i love letting is simmer on our wood burning stove on colder days as it fills the house with lovely autumn fragrance. http://www.workhouseblog.com/?p=208

  • I’ve had Chai made “from scratch” (Dobra Tea | Asheville, NC) and the experience of drinking it was way different than the pre-mixed super sweet version. It made me relaxed and calm and then it gave me a nice energy boost too! I’ll definitely be trying this. Thanks for sharing!

  • I’d like to make a big batch! Does anyone know how long this will keep in the refrigerator?

  • My mom used to toss cardamom peels into the black tea tin instead of throwing them away, so there was always a hint of cardamom in the tea. She used this for everday chai, and when we had guests she added ginger. But we always had chai in a teacup :)

  • Thanks for the recipe and gorgeous photos. I will be trying this very soon!

    A friend of mine married into an Indian family and throws a few fresh mint leaves into her chai towards the end, which is lovely (I noticed the comment at the top that mentioned basil, which also sounds good).

  • Chai means ‘tea’ in hindi/urdu. So when you saw chai tea, it really sounds funny to south asians.

    Anyways, one can make chai with a lot of different spices in combination or alone (pepper, fennel seeds, tulsi/holy basil, mint, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, clove) . Fennel and ginger (separately) are my favorite. Most indian stores also sell Chai Masala (chai=tea + masala=spice). I like Tetley’s Masala tea bags (only tea and spices, no sugar). Another really good tea mix is from Mariage Frers Chandernagor. Really tasty esp in a strong but milky tea prep.

  • We make a big pot of chai once a week and keep it in a pitcher in the fridge to reheat each morning. We use very similar proportions, but add a bay leaf or two and fennel seeds. You can also simmer in a few tablespoons of tumeric- adds a strong flavor but also major health benefits!

  • i love chai. one of my favourites. thanks for the recipe. already have all the ingredients. now i’m inspired to make my own “toot sweet”.

    .also, that other chai recipe for yogi chai sounds equally delish and theyre both really healthy. which, i feel, is in keeping with the essence presented here.

    thanks again. cheers, :)

  • I love this recipe. I was always surprised by how overly sweet and un-peppery chai tasted when ordered at a coffee shop instead of a good indian restaurant. I will definitely follow this recipe, but what I have done when pressed for time is combined regular Assam or Darjeeling with a pinch of Penzey’s Garam Masala powder, which has all the ingredients mixed together.

  • Chai is great year round. Grew up with hot chai in the winter. In my early 20s, I used to visit an ashram regularly, and found that cold/room temp chai is great for late summer afternoons after a day of hard work.

  • Use Tupelo honey. It’s a spicy amazingly complex honey that is only made in Northwest Florida. It adds such a depth of flavor to chai!

  • Sounds yummy – thanks! My friend who spent years teaching in India always did a dry toasting of the spices in the pan before adding the liquid. It seems to bring a richness to the flavours.

  • deb- i make mine by the gallon and store it for weeks in the fridge. i just leave out the milk and sweetener until i’m ready to heat it up to drink it.
    i throw everything in a crock pot and let it go on low heat overnight- it concentrates it a bit. then it all goes in the fridge, and when i’m ready for a cup i pour equal parts chai and milk on the stove, add some honey and bring it to a simmer.

  • @kaziki – it’s easy to substitute the milk for any variety, rice milk, soy, almond or cows.
    I like my chai decaffinated, so rather than a black tea I use rooibos tea, or sometimes dandelion root coffee

  • lovely! i like stevia in our spiced tea, it lets the spices, show without making me wild from sugar. if i can’t get raw milk i’ll use goat’s milk. i’m missing my wood stoves for just this sort of thing, too! x

  • Just to clarify: It’s chai…not chai tea. ‘Chai’ means tea in hindi so it’s a little wierd when people (westerners mostly) call it chai tea :)

  • Hi!

    Not commenting on the recipe (that I will try, I promise :)), but… Can you tell me where you found those beautiful mugs ? I love them! :)

  • I adored Teaism in DuPont and Penn Q when I lived there. For full experience get the Teasim scone recipe from the food network recipe archives and add extra ginger. I’ll make this chai and scones this weekend!

  • Will definitely try this recipe. Can those mugs be purchased online? They are so lovely.

  • For my homemade Chai…I like to skip the fancy specialty markets for buying the spices and go to an international market (Indian is even better). Way cheaper and you get a lot more for your money!

  • Please I beg you to not call it chai tea .. That’s redundant .. Chai in itself is just water, milk and sugar and loose tea leaves boiled to perfection. The above recipe is for ‘masala chai’ or literal translation, spice tea. It’s usually had with ginger to cure a sore throat or cold/flu. and it’s best dipped with Rusks.

  • So lovely to see a real chai recipe rather than the awful stuff you get served in places like Starbucks or from packages. Cloyingly sweet is a polite description I’d say. There is no way anyone could like that after having the real deal! Luckily the first chai I ever had was made properly at a little cafe in Sydney, so I’ve been spoiled since the beginning :) I spent ages trying to replicate their recipe and it came out pretty similar to yours. Sometimes I like to add in a little bit of fresh orange peel (no pith!) while it’s simmering too. Yum!

  • I love homemade chai! I add some anise or fennel and a cinnamon stick to mine too. I also usually do a 2:1 ratio for milk to water (although I don’t use half-and-half like my Indian in laws insist is necessary).

  • My first week in college a friend invited me to help serve food at an Indian banquet. I watched the women make the chai in the biggest stock pots i have seen using sweetened condensed milk. I memorized what they did so I could replicate, but never have until now, 8 years later. Thanks for the motivation. :)

  • I’m glad to have your recipe for masala chai! I will try it with Rooibus in place of the black tea, to avoid the caffeine.
    I drink Trader Joe’s Organic Spiced Rooibos Ruby Red Chai, and love it! Making my own, fresh blend of spices appeals.
    Thanks for the help in getting started.

  • Cinnamon sticks are a definite in my recipe, often ground ginger as well, and I use half milk half water to brew. I would have thought adding the pre crushed ginger as suggested earlier would leave a ‘slick’ on the surface of the tea. You don’t need to chop the fresh stuff finely before adding, just hack off a few bits and throw it in! I don’t even peel. The pepper is a must- don’t be afraid!

  • Try grating the fresh ginger in with a microplane–much easier than chopping. I use evaporated milk in my chai, which is much closer in concsistancy to what you get in India.

  • for those that have asked about the mugs, they’re actually from our personal collection. sorry! we love them. we’ve collected them over time from local potters, but i don’t have any specific names and the signature on the bottoms of the mugs isn’t really legible.

  • Loved this post! Great tip about crushing the cardomom pods with a spoon – I usually try and open them with my nails but it’s so fiddly! Gonna go make some chai now – it’s the only thing that can warm me up when it’s so chilly outside. thanks for sharing! saritaagerman.blogspot.it

  • Also, I liked the basil and mint comments – I might try those at some point too. I usually make chai using rooibos tea – because it’s sweet anyway, it means you don’t have to use as much sugar.

  • I love homemade chai masala! I use a similar recipe from BUST magazine a few years ago that uses cinnamon sticks and a bay leaf in the spice mix as well. I often use maple syrup to sweeten it instead of honey as well – makes my recipe rather New England-y!

    To the reader asking how long this will keep – if you want to make a big batch, I would try freezing it!

  • I love this tea from the supermarket, wow just by the recipe I know that your tea done at home is amazing. Thank you for sharing I will try this tomorrow.

  • When using raw honey- put it in last after off heat since high temps take away the value of raw honey

  • Really enjoyed reading your story – it was memorable and painted a picture. I LOVE Chai lattes, but haven’t tried to make any homemade, but you’ve inspired me to try! Thank you! :) P.S. LOVE your mugs – beautiful pottery!!!

  • Tried this recipe but did not turn out well. Too watery and kind of dark color as if not enough milk. Tried w 2 cups water and 1/2 cup milk still watery and dark color. Your pic looks milky. What am I doing wrong?