Small Measures: Homemade Chai

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

  1. 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.

  2. Heidi says:

    I like to make the concentrate, then add hot milk as I drink it:

    It works really well, and the concentrate stays good for sure a week (I always drink it up in a week or less)!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. Geek+Nerd says:

    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!

  6. Elena says:

    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.

  7. Irene says:

    Tried it today – great recipe !!! Best wishes from Austria!

  8. Elena says:

    Wow tried it today with my son we loved it. Thank you so much for sharing!

  9. Joel says:

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

  10. April says:

    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!!!

  11. Eva says:

    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?


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