Chai – Masala Tea

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the majority of Indians did not know how to make a cup of tea and were reluctant to drink one. Now that India is both the world’s major producer and consumer of tea, this seems incredible. It confounds the myth that the British acquired their love of tea from their Indian subjects. In fact, it was the British who introduced tea to the Indians. Although they barely changed the way Indians eat, the British radically altered what they eat and drink.  While the introduction of a wide variety of European and American vegetables to India was an inadvertent by-product of British rule, the conversion of the population to tea-drinking was the result of what must have been the first major marketing campaign in India. The British-owned Indian Tea Association set itself the task of first creating a new habit among the Indian population, and then spreading it across the entire subcontinent.

Extract from “Curry – A Biography” by Lizzie Collingham.

If like me, you tend to “over-indulge” when you eat Indian food, chai is a great option for dessert when you’re too full, but you still want to satisfy that sweet tooth. The fragrant spices are infused in boiling water and milk before the tea is steeped. Chai is also believed to be great for tummy upsets and generally aiding digestion.

Even if you’re not accustomed to taking sugar in your tea, don’t skip on the sweetening. You need it to bring out the warmth and flavour of the spices.


  • 350ml water
  • 100 ml milk
  • 5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • piece of cinnamon stick (about 5cm)
  • slice of ginger root (about 2cm thick)
  • 1 tsp tea leaves (black tea)
  • 1-2 tsp sugar


  1. Heat the water, milk, ginger and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and leave simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  2. Take off the heat and add the tea leaves. Leave to stand for 3 minutes before straining into a mug and sweetening to taste with a little sugar. A teaspoon or two should do it.

Serves 1.


3 Responses to “Chai – Masala Tea”

  1. 1 Daily Spud November 22, 2009 at 12:15 am

    That extracts summarises what I found to be one of the most interesting things in Lizzie Collingham’s book – before reading it, I had no idea that the widespread adoption of tea in India was so, well, recent. Fascinating stuff to pore over while having a nice cup of chai!

  2. 2 adel November 22, 2009 at 11:12 am

    One of the documentary travel shows told me that chai is made using residues from tea leaves as tea leaves are to be sold / exported for a good profit, not to mention the fragrant darjeeling; because the ‘tea residues’ don’t taste good,hence, spices, sugar and milk are used to make up for the flavour. Nowadays, the locals are catching up, there are tea rooms booming in India. However, in poorer states, ‘tea residues’ are consumed.
    Just sharing 🙂

  3. 3 Toasted Special November 22, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    DS – It’s a fascinating read alright. I also loved the chapter on “curry powder”, a very British invention.

    Adel – very interesting. I’d highly recommend this book to you.

    I have to admit, I’m definitely in the tea leaves camp myself. My grandmother never used a teabag in her life, claiming that they were filled with the stuff they sweep off the floor! 😀

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