Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to Make [the best] Chai [ever]



Chai has always been an integral part of our daily lives as well as our get togethers with friends and family.  At family reunions, my father had the honorary title of "chai master" and mine was "junior chai master."  We used to joke about how when we were all sick of being doctors, we would retire and open up a small cafe called "Good Chai" and stock it with the best chai in the world and some mighty delicious snacks.  That way we could continue the tradition of people coming to our house and sipping mug after mug of chai and letting their problems melt away in the delicious warmth of this wonderful drink.



The Basics of Chai

Chai is a ubiquitous drink in India.  It is made across the country and is drunk both at home and at tiny tea stalls on road sides everywhere.  Interestingly, this beverage that so many people associate with India was actually not consumed until the time of the British Raj.  India grew a large amount of tea in areas such as Assam and Darjeeling, however the majority of Indians consumed coffee.  The British East India Company became concerned as they realized they were losing a vast source of income to the Chinese, who had a virtual monopoly on tea sales.  Thus, the East India Company began promoting tea to Indians.  At first, the Indians were skeptical, and did not want to abandon their strongly flavored coffee.  But eventually someone added strongly flavored spices to a sweet and milky tea and masala chai took off!  The chai is sweet and spicy with a subtle burn at the back of the throat.  It is, in a word, wonderful.

The Tea Leaves



The tea used in chai is very crucial to the final flavor of the tea.  Many people assume that they have to use the best quality tea available and use whole leaf Darjeeling or Assam tea, and end up with chai that does not taste quite right.  The tea for masala chai is a variety known as "mamri" or "little grain" tea.  It is cheap and strong and holds its own against the strong spices in the chai.  I recommend making a trip to an Indian grocery store to buy brands such as Lipton Yellow Label, Jivraj No. 9, or Taj Mahal.  If you do not have an Indian store nearby, buy Lipton or some other similarly cheap and strong black tea bags from the grocery store.  This tea will probably become your "chai only" tea, as it is not necessarily the best to drink plain, but is absolutely wonderful with milk, spices, and sugar.

The Masala


Much like the recipe for garam masala, this recipe also comes from my paternal great-great grandmother and has been passed down through the generations, giving all of us some pretty incredible chai.  While I am obviously biased I really do believe our masala is what makes our chai so special.  The chai masala is a delicious blend of cloves, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and black pepper.  All of the spices add a delicious warmth to the chai, and the black pepper and ginger add a subtle heat as well.   We have a specific ratio that we follow to make the spice blend, but feel free to adjust it as you deem fit.  If you'd like less burn, decrease the black pepper, if you love cardamom, bump that up.  The recipe is a great guideline, but feel free to change it as the seasons and your mood change!

Warning--Nerdy science note:  The flavors that make spices taste delicious are all aromatic compounds.  Aromatic compounds are made of molecules that contain a structure known as a benzene ring, meaning they dissolve best in alcohols or fats.  You may have notices this when making drinks, that adding a twist of lemon to a martini adds significantly more flavor in a shorter amount of time than adding a twist of flavor to a glass of water.  Similarly, if you make this chai with a non-fat milk, you won't extract as many flavors from the spices as if you make it with a milk that has some fat.  So do your spices a flavor, and don't make this with skim milk.  Nerdy science note done.

Making the Chai



There are many ways to make chai.  Some start by boiling ingredients sequentially, and others have strict rules about only stirring the chai 3 times in clockwise circles.  The way that my family makes chai is relatively straightforward.  We dump all the ingredients in the pot and let it come to a slow boil until it turns a beautiful, rich color.  We use loose leaf tea, so it is necessary to strain the tea once it is fully cooked (having a spouted pot will really help decrease spills).  Strain the tea, sit back, and enjoy.

Recipe:

Per 8 oz:
1/2 cup milk (not skim milk, see nerdy science note above)
1/2 cup water
1 to 2 tsp. sugar, or your favorite sweetener
1 tsp. loose tea leaves
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. chai masala depending on your spice preference, see recipe below

Pour all ingredients into a (preferably spouted) saucepan.  Place over medium heat.  Allow to heat until small bubbles appear around the perimeter of the milk.  Stir the chai, scraping the bottom to avoid scalding the milk.  When the milk comes to a boil, turn off the heat and stir well.  Bring to a boil once again, turn off the heat and stir well.  Allow to steep for a few minutes.  Strain carefully into a cup, and serve. 

Chai Masala:
Note:  The recipe was passed down in grams, I've tried to convert it into conventional measurements, but please be aware that the conventional measurements are of the finely ground not the whole spices.

160 g. black pepper, finely ground, (1 cup + 3 Tbsp)
125 g. ginger powder, finely ground (3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp)
50 g. cinnamon powder, finely ground (1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp)
50 g. ground cardamom, finely ground (1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp)
5 g. clove powder, finely ground (2 tsp)
5 g. nutmeg powder, finely ground (2 tsp)

If you are using whole spices, weigh out the appropriate amount, place in spice grinder and grind into a fine powder.  Mix all the spices together, store in an airtight jar in a cool, dry part of your kitchen.  Do not expose to too much sunlight.

Enjoy!

100 comments:

  1. great job! may be i should start drinking tea. love you.

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  2. It is really the best tea ever. So glad you posted this- nothing compares. Yes, Damayanti should start drinking! Hope "Parle G " bisquits aren't too sweet. Where's my Indian snack mix?

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  3. Amazing tea It sounds delicious !!

    Chai

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  4. Amazing tea It sounds delicious !!

    Chai

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  5. Thanx Tanvilu for this eagerly awaited recipe. Question- about how long does this masala stay good? Is making smaller batches more frequently better than making enough once a year!
    i am a ginger lover so might go generous on that and lighter on the black pepper. This stuff is sure to make the chai tea lattes look so impotent

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  6. Love your nerdy science note! You must add that to all the future recipes you are going to share with us.

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  7. I admire your passion for sharing some of the family pleasures with everyone. I could answer some of the questions, but will leave it to you. Heavenly!!

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  8. @Mom: Thanks! But don't worry, I'll post your favorite ukalo soon!

    @Carol aunty: The Parle G biscuits are a little bit sweet, but not too sweet. I'm sure you've eaten them at our place before. I would have put out some of the bhusu, but I didn't have any at my house!

    @Tonya: You're welcome!

    @James: Thanks! It's super tasty.

    @Amitbhai: This masala stays good for a pretty long time. Dad usually makes a batch 3-4 times a year and that is about the perfect amount of time. I have had a batch that still is really tasty after about a year, but you'll probably have to add more on the 1/4 tsp end and not the 1/8 tsp amount. If you don't anticipate using the chai masala frequently enough, make the big batch and then keep out only a quarter cup or so, and store the rest in the fridge/freezer. Come back and visit us and I'll !

    @Kshama Aunty: Thanks, I'm so glad you liked the sciency stuff! Since you like them, I'll continue adding the science notes as they are applicable!

    @Dad: Thanks for sharing all these recipes with me so I can share them with everyone else! We're finally getting around to making the family cookbook.

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  9. Hi Tanvi-- just found this via Tastespotting (http://www.tastespotting.com/detail/147926/Chai-Spice-Blend) and I wonder-- do you think it would be possible to pre-portion tea plus sugar plus spices into tea bags so that I could give jars of them as gifts for Christmas? I wonder if the spices will just escape and damage the ratio. Thanks!

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  10. @Rachel: You absolutely could do that! I used to do that when I was super addicted to the chai and relied on it in the mornings. I would take little premade tea bags with me when I was traveling! One thing I would recommend is to make sure you get fine mesh tea bags, rather than looser net like bags, otherwise all the tiny masala will slip out. Another recommendation is to avoid putting in sugar, unless you are absolutely sure that the person enjoys a sweeter beverage. If you are sure they do, then go ahead and put the sugar in it! That way they can just pop it into a pot with milk and water and boil it and go. Thanks for checking out my blog :)

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  11. you're on tastespotting again! yaaaaaaaaaaay!!!

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  12. Thanks! I am so doing this! I will give you credit, I promise. :)

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  13. @Pia: Yay! It's always so exciting when a picture of mine makes it!

    @Rachel: I hope your friends and family enjoy it :)

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  14. Love this post! I'm obsessed with chai too, how can anyone NOT be?!

    :)

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  15. @Amrita: I totally agree with you! It's soooo good!

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  16. I'm a little intimidated by your spices. :) But it;s worth a try for delicious homemade chai!

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  17. Fantastic post on chai, Tanvi! Love how you took the time to explain it so well. Sharing this!

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  18. @Lindsay: Don't be intimidated! I promise the spices aren't as scary as they sound. And you'll have a delicious treat at the end. What could be better? :)

    @Divya: Thanks so much! I'm glad you liked the explanations.

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  19. So it's essay time at school and I miss miss miss my little DOGGY BAG of your dad's chai masala! Also, I think this spouted pot you're using is a BRILLIANT plan seeing as most of my chai wound up on my kitchen counter when I tried to pour it out of a regular pot!

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  20. hey tanvi , i have to agree that this is an authentic indian chai ... to such an extent that even the pot u r using is same we use in india .Love the way you have explained . we should sip a chai together soon dearie .

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  21. found this through a Pinterest pin, and have made a huge batch to give to my daughter's teachers for the holidays. Thank you so much for sharing a wonderful recipe without using evaporated or dry milk, lol! just made my first cup - can't wait!

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  22. I've noticed that some recipes call for star anise - do you have any thoughts on how that would change the flavor? I love how spicy this is - a great wake up tea! Thanks!

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    1. I imagine that star anise would be quite delicious and give the tea a nice depth of flavor. In my part of India, we don't use star anise quite as much in our cooking, so that's likely why it never entered our tea repertoire.

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  23. ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! Best recipe for chai yet that I've found. Thanks for posting!

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  24. @mop: Yes! Dad's doggy bags of chai are the best! And the spouted pan is completely key.

    @Roopa: We should def get chai together soon!

    @Dona: So glad you found it Dona. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

    @Jill: Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

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  25. Will try the chai masala sometimem..:)

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  26. thanks! will try this soon!

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  27. Hello! I've smoked for 20 yrs. Last month I came across Old Boston Masala Chai Tea by wellbeing... let's just say it's been good for my well-being. Decreased my nicotine consumption by 2/3. However, since I can't find it in stores, I'm making your recipe, w/ honey, no milk & adding basil. I'll be making this everyday. Thank you. I needed something simple and your recipe was the simplest.

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  28. Since my supplier of loose leaf chai mix stopped selling it, I was forced to look for alternatives. Found yours and tried it and it is wonderful, best chai I have had, not that I am any expert. Not going back to the old ways, the little extra effort is worth all the flavor. I will also be paying about 20% of what I used to pay. Picked up a small gram scale on the cheap too. Thanks!

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    1. Update: Drink it every day and enjoy every sip. Have passed the link on to other chai lovers. Thanks so much for sharing this!!

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  29. It's so sad that I can't pin this. :(

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    1. Hi Linsey! I'm not sure why it can't be pinned. I'll try to work on it and make it 'pin-able'. Sorry!

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  30. Hey a quick question are you a "NAGAR"...coz only we and only we have this last name..a little inquisitive on that..:)I came across your blog searching for a tea masala recipe..thanks will surely give it a try.

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  31. why do some receipes have star anise?

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    1. There are a lot of regional variations on chai. Star anise is not a spice we typically use in my part of India. In parts of India where star anise is used, it often ends up in the chai.

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  32. UPDATE: Thank you to those of you who pointed out that the images couldn't be pinned. I think they should be pinnable now!

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  34. I absolutely love your blog! My best friend is from India and I'm quite taken with her cuisine but have not mastered her recipes yet. I just stumbled upon your blog and very much look forward to making your Indian recipes. Looking forward to many more to come! If the whole medicine thing doesn't work out you could always work on a cookbook! ;)

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  35. I've just returned from India where I became hooked on Masala Chai. I read your recipe, headed to Tesco's, bought the ingredients and had a go at making it myself. Result! It's great, thanks very much for a delicious recipe.

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  36. That was very nice, just made some chai massala to your recipe - and made a mug of tea as suggested - I just used cheap tea we use here in the UK. It reminded me of the spicy flavours we associate with Christmas spices in Christmas cake. The result was absolutely fantastic. I saved the extra chai massala powder in a jar for the next time. Luckily I had all the spices in my food cupboard as I'm already a huge fan of Indian cuisine. Thank you for this recipe.

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  38. This is such an awesome recipe! Thanks so much for sharing. I have looked at sooo many difference chai recipes, and have tried to figure out why mine doesn't taste like the ones at my favorite Indian restaurants. Now I know why -- it is because of the black pepper. So many of the recipes on the web do not include black pepper in the ingredients list and this flavor was what was missing. Thanks again!

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  39. Hi Tanvi..happy to have stumbled up on your blog. Though I've been cooking for years now, I still don't know how to make a decent cup of tea..so thank u so much for this!! Pls do chk out my blog wen u get a chance..hopefully, u will like it. I am now ure 53rd follower!!

    Neets
    neetustastytreats.blogspot.com

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  40. I read your post and I really appreciate your experience. I will get good knowledge from there as well. Keep posting…
    Tea Masala | Spices & herbs

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  41. Your chai recipe looks absolutely wonderful- I can't wait to try it. As someone who doesn't handle her caffeine all that well, I was wondering if there is any reason why decaf tea might not work (as per your nerdy science note). I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Thanks!

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    1. I think decaf tea would work great! You probably wouldn't be able to find the 'mamri' tea in decaf, but you could use a good darjeeling or a good orange pekoe tea in decaf. Even a good english breakfast tea could be used. If you are using whole leaf, loose leaf tea, I would recommend using a touch more tea leaves (about 1.5 tsp). If you can't find loose leaf decaf, I recommend cutting open your tea bags so the tea can fully infuse. Enjoy!

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  42. Love this recipe :) i reduced the peppercorns to make it less spicy. Just wondering, should i roast the spices before i grind the,? My mum told me it lasts longer if it is pre roasted or it might spoil.

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    1. We've never roasted, but if you try let me know how it turns out!

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  44. Hello!

    I made your recipe! It was delicious! Grinding up the ingredients sounded easy - just bung 'em in the grinder but I'd totally forgotten about sieving out the sticks and stones in the spices. That was quite some work >< Just wondering, do you remove the cardamom husks? They didn't seem to fully pulverize in my grinder and so found I had to pick them out. Btw, also blogged about this so hope you don't mind me linking to your blog for the recipe. Cheers :)

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    1. I use just cardamom seeds not the husks. That'll probably make your work a bit easier.

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    2. I use the cardamons fully. Either slightly warm it (40 secs - 80% microwave power). Then grind it with the other spices. Or simply add 1 tbsp sugar while grinding the unwarmed cardamons.

      also note some cinnamon sticks are stubborn to be fully ground. You can use the same technique.

      thank you.

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  45. Wats is the chai masala proportion for 1 cup tea....as I could not understand the proportion above...

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    1. 1/8-1/4t of chai masala per 1-8oz cup of tea.

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  46. Would soy milk taste ok with this?

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    1. Yup! Just be sure to boil the water and soy milk separate. Add the spices to the soy milk and the tea leaves to the water. The tea leaves don't really steep that well in soy milk mixed with water for some reason.

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  47. Thank you for this, now it all makes sense! I'll spare myself the embarrassment of telling you how I've been trying to make chai...

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  48. Looks interesting, will give this one a try soon.

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  49. This sounds like a delicious recipe. I was just wondering if there was any way I could make this into a loose leaf tea blend that I could just steep per cup in a home made tea bag? Maybe if instead of using pre ground spices I could use whole spices and just chop them coarsely?

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    1. I don't see why not! It probably would be difficult to get the spice level right, but I'm sure with trial and error you'll be able to do it. You really do have to boil it on a stove top, it won't taste the same if you just steep it in hot milk and water.

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  50. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to post this. I've been looking for a really great chai recipe and this has to be it!!! I'm lucky enough to live near an Indian grocery store so I won't have any trouble finding what I need. Thank you again

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  51. Sounds amazing! I can't wait to try. Also, could I just use a splash of lemon to extract the flavor of the spices? My husband has milk allergies :(

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    1. If you're not going to use cow's milk I would recommend using a milk substitute. I've tried a couple and they don't work quite the same as cow's milk, but what I recommend is boiling the water and milk substitute in two separate pots. Add the tea leaves to the water and the spices to the milk substitute then mix together and strain. For some reason milk substitutes don't pick up the flavor of the tea quite as well as milk and water.

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  52. Thanks so much for posting this! Great results! Thanks for the "nerdy" insight too! Changed the way I looked at cooking!

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    1. Yay! Glad you enjoyed the science bit. There are some really great books to check out if you're interested in the science of cooking: Harold McGee's on Food and Cooking is incredible!

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  53. Thank you for the inspiration! My spouse and I have always enjoyed masala chai at restaraunts and from specialty food stores, this was only the second time we had tried making it ourselves and it came out lovely. We were fortunate enough to have cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole nutmeg, etc. on hand so the process of grinding everything was half the fun. Wound up drying some fresh grated ginger in the toaster oven and adding a bit of star anise, but otherwise was following recipe. Would have never had this wonderful experience without finding your site. Namaste.

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    1. so pleased that you enjoyed the recipe! I love adding fresh ginger! And star anise certainly does add some pleasing flavors as well.

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  54. Thank you Tanvi for sharing Chai Masala with us. I'm the "chai master" in my home. Daily I will have at least 4 - 6 cups. My recipe is almost same as yours just varying with what I have in spices. Sometimes I buy the ready mixed "Chai Masala" powder. I also add a pinch or two of Oregano leaves at the end which gives the chai a unique aroma.

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    1. Ooh! Oregano leaves! I've never tried that before. I'll have to try it!

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  55. I adore you for keeping such a wonderful blog and amazing passion towards food.I'm a food lover and enjoy even trying various eating styles. I've developed a great passion for tea, But isn't tea drunk for a purpose of enjoying its flavor and taste? And I suppose only a few things like cardamom can go with it and may not be a mix of all,as it can ruin the real 'tea effect' I extremely want to know about it being a one craving for the 'Best Cup of 'Tea'..You do Inspire! Love you

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  56. So I tried this recipe, it's my first time trying to make it myself since I got back from India, but it didn't work for me. The mixture never darkened and it came out tasting just like black tea with milk. Any suggestions? :( Maybe it's my spice...

    /hopeless in the kitchen/

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    1. Keep trying! Watch your water milk balance, and make sure you are using cow's milk. Try adding some more spice. Hopefully with some practice it'll be delicious!

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  57. Thanks for sharing your family's recipe! Just about all of the other recipes I've seen for chai call for whole spices, I assume that's because dealing with straining the ground spices is more difficult. What do you use to strain? A jelly bag?

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    1. I just use a fine mesh strainer and have not had any issues with the spices being too strong. Enjoy!

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  58. Great recipe - it was so yummy, even without the nutmeg (which I did not have at home). Thanks for sharing!

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  59. Hi Tanvi!
    Thanks for sharing your family's special chai recipe. I made delicious chai for the first time since returning from India 1.5 years ago. YAY! Curious: Why is it important to bring the chai to a boil twice?

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    1. I think the milk does not take on the flavor as strongly if you just boil it once! It's really a personal preference. My grandpa likes his tea only boiled once and I boil mine twice or thrice! Try all versions and see which one you enjoy the most.

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  60. thanks a lot dear, u just have made my day...thanks a lottt...

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  61. Thanks so much for posting this. I just tried my fourth recipe for homemade chai tea, and none of them have the good strong flavor and burn that I love. Yours is more complex, so hopefully it will the "the one". Thanks again for sharing your family's recipe!

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  62. I just used this chai masala to season apple chips, and it was amazing! This may be one of my new favorite snacks. This recipe is the gift that keeps giving.

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  63. Thanks for the nerdy science note. I wanted to make a big batch of milk-free chai concentrate to freeze into cubes so I could drop them in smoothies. Because of your nerdy science note, I added some alcohol to the mixture during steeping and later simmered the mixture long enough so there's not a trace of alcohol flavor.

    Hooray for being able to customize the recipe for my needs because of your nerdy note. Thanks!

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  64. Thanks for the recipe. Just to confirm, was this made with indan/chinese cinammon, sometimes called "cassia bark" or true cinnamon? Also, do you ground the entire cardamom or do you throw out the pods? :)

    Can't wait to try this chai.

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  65. Thanks for your post on chai! I have now made some individual "top secret" tweaks to your recipe to make the seriously best chai in the world, but I started with your base! Mmmmmmm.

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  66. Love this recipe. It's much simpler than others I've tried. Great pics also.

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  67. Perfect! I have drunk gallons of chai all over India and Nepal. Scalding hot, sweet, and strong. Indian railways a particular favourite.

    Well, your recipe is the closest I have found so far! Thank you!

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  68. This is the best! I did reduce the pepper..because 1c of pepper over powerd it to me. Does it turn out the same if you boil it in just water...and add the milk after?

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    1. It does not turn out the same at all. Please read the text along with the recipe--I address exactly your questions! I get my strainers in India, but you will always end up with a tiny bit of spice at the bottom. Some people love it. I always start swirling the cup when I am about 1/2 done to get it to evenly disperse!

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  69. Also..where do u find a sufficient strainer?? I thought I had a fine one...but I still get spice "sand" in the bottom of cup?

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  70. I know this recipe has been here for a while, but I must say this is the best chai masala I have ever tasted! And the best part is that I can make it whenever I want thanks to you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Next I will try the spiced chai pumpkin pie or chai cupcakes with lemongrass mint whipped cream. :^D On another note, this was my first attempt at making the masala myself. Thank you for making it so easy to understand.

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  71. I'm not sure if anyone has asked this, but what do you think about Almond milk with this recipe?

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    1. I think it would be good! Just boil the water and milk separately with the tea leaves in the water and the spices in the almond milk. That's the only way I've found that it works best. Enjoy!

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  72. Thank you so much for this recipe! Best chai I've ever had. :)

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  73. Good recipe but it's much much better made with fresh ginger.

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  74. Excellent. I've had chai a lot, but never made it myself. Recipe turned out fantastic.

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  75. I feel satisfied after finding this one.

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