Classic North Indian Chai, Exotically Spiced Tea as Desired

by DerdriuMarriner

Classic North Indian chai is based upon distinctively flavoring black tea with a medley of spices to yield the subcontinent's regionally-varied class of tea, masala chai.

On the Indian subcontinent, chai ("tea") is not traditionally a beverage of tea bags doused with water and milk and possibly sweetened. Classic North Indian chai encourages customized gustatory and sensory experiences of the hot, loose-leaf beverage via preferential selections of spices.

There is no standard recipe for masala chai ("spice tea"). The spice mixture varies by many factors, such as by region, by family, by occasion, by purveyor.

The abundance of chai wallahs and wallis (male and female roadside and street tea beverage vendors) evinces the popularity of masala chai throughout the Indian subcontinent. Businesses receive tea beverage deliveries in iconic chaidaans (metal- or wooden-framed cup carriers).

chai walli (female tea vendor) happily sells tea to travellers on highway in Pauri, Uttarakhand, North India
chai walli (female tea vendor) happily sells tea to travellers on highway in Pauri, Uttarakhand, North India


Traditional North Indian masala chai is based upon a blend of water and milk. The proportion of water to milk varies. For the many milky chai aficionados, the proportion of one portion of water to two portions of milk is ideal.

Tea is brewed as loose leaves. Black tea is favored for the strength of its flavor. Popular black teas include Assam from Northeast India's Assam State; Darjeeling from East India's West Bengal State; and Nilgiri from South India's Tamil Nadu State.

The traditional masala comprises green cardamom (Zingiberaceae family) pods, cinnamon (Cinnamomum genus) sticks, cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), ginger (Zingiber officinale) and black peppercorn (Piper nigrum). Traditionally the spices are brewed in their unground, whole forms.

Masala chai tends to be sweetened. The degree of sweetening and the type of sweetener vary. Popular sweeteners include Demerara sugar, honey, jaggery (unrefined sugar from palm tree sap or sugarcane juice), palm or coconut sugar, white sugar.


The traditional preparation calls for boiling the ingredients. Flavors of spices and tea leaves are dispersed by decoction (Latin: decoquere, "to boil down"; de "from" + coquere "to cook"). Spices and tea leaves are strained as the concoction is poured into receptacles: cups or glasses for drinking; teapots or other storage vessels for serving.


masala dabba (spice box)

masala chai's spices, organized in a masala dabba (spice box)
masala chai's spices, organized in a masala dabba (spice box)


My family's recipe for North Indian masala chai favors Assam or Darjeeling loose-leaf black tea.

Our favorite water-milk proportions range from one-to-one to one-to-two, depending upon desired creaminess. We tend to select plant-based milks. We especially enjoy almond milk, cashew milk and coconut milk.

Our spice medley tends to center on the traditional medley of cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger and black peppercorns.

Spice variations may include fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), star anise (Illicium verum) or turmeric (Curcuma longa).

For sweetener, we gravitate toward honey varieties. If we opt for sugar, we always go with Demerara. In my sister's travels across India, she became fond of sweetening either with date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)-based jaggery or with local honeys.


My family and friends drink North Indian masala chai in the traditional way, in small (6- to 8-ounce) glass tea cups.




1 cup water

2 cups milk

   Suggestions: almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk

2 tablespoons loose-leaf black tea

   Suggestions: Assam CTC (crush/cut, tear, curl); Darjeeling loose-leaf black tea

6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

3 cinnamon sticks, broken in pieces

6 whole cloves

1 small ginger root, freshly grated or roughly chopped

6 black peppercorns

honey or Demerara sugar





Pour water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce to medium heat. Add tea leaves and spices to water. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add milk and sweetener. Allow to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.

Turn off heat. Cover saucepan with lid and allow to steep for 10 minutes. (Note: 15 minutes or longer to increase tea strength.)

Turn heat to high; remove lid. Bring to a light boil.

Turn off heat; remove saucepan from burner.

Filter tea beverage by pouring into small (6- to 8-ounce) glass cups via a fine-mesh sieve.


Serves 4.


Cookbook author Suvir Saran pairs masala chai with hot cabbage fritters (patta gobi pakode).

masala chai with hot cabbage fritters by cookbook author Suvir Saran
masala chai with hot cabbage fritters by cookbook author Suvir Saran



My special thanks to talented photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet.


TurmericZone's mangrove eucalyptus organic honey from Sunderbans, West Bengal, eastern India:

Organic spices (raw turmeric, Ceylon cinnamon, black pepper, cloves) enchantingly flavor this Ayurveda-inspired super honey. This product is eligible for Amazon Smile donation.
Organic Honey | Turmeric Ceylon Cinnamon Honey with Black Pepper & ...

Wagh Bakri Masala Chai 100's: black Assam tea aromatically and tastefully flavored with cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, black pepper and pipli (long pepper; Piper longum).

Amazon's Choice as highly rated and well-priced product. This product is eligible for Amazon Smile donation.
Wagh Bakri Masala Chai 100'S

Vahdam's stainless steel set of one tea spoon and two infusers (one square infuser, one triangular infuser):

Amazon's Choice as highly rated and well-priced product. This product is eligible for Amazon Smile donation.
VAHDAM, Set of 2 Infusers & 1 Tea Spoon - Stainless Steel, Tea Stra...

Vahdam's masala chai tea:

Assam CTC (crush/cut, tear, curl) black loose-leaf tea , tantalizingly spiced with cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper.
VAHDAM, India's Original Masala Chai Tea Loose Leaf | 50 cups, 3.53...

Sources Consulted


Saran, Suvir. Masala Farm: Stories and Recipes From an Uncommon Life in the Country. San Francisco CA: Chronicle Books, 2013.

Singla, Anupy. Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes. Chicago IL: Surrey Books, 2012.

Suvir Saran @suvirsaran. "It’s a holiday and the weather is perfect to stay in and enjoy some crispy and crunchy fritters with hot masala chai. All you need to do is, swipe left, and read this super simple cabbage fritters recipe, give it a try, click a shot, and share with me by tagging @suvirsaran Have a blissful and tasty Tuesday, our 72nd #RepublicDay! Also, thank you my dear @smritiiraniofficial for keeping us all eating #Local4Poshan and #Seasonal4Poshan and celebrating #Indian #heritage and flavors. Photo shot and styled by @bhukadinsan." Facebook. Jan. 26, 2021.

Available @


Masala Farm by Suvir Saran

Over 80 inspired recipes include Farmhouse Chai, an enticing masala chai from an upstate New York farmer-cookbook author-chef, born in New Delhi and formerly based in New York City.
Masala Farm: Stories and Recipes from an Uncommon Life in the Country

Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes by Anupy Singla

Presentation of the veganability of India's cuisine includes Anupy Singla's personal blend for Chai (Tea) Masala.
Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes

Brew To A Tea's glass tea set

Glass cups aesthetically capture aromas and flavors of beverages such as North Indian masala chai. This product is eligible for Amazon Smile donation.
BTaT- Tea Pot, Tea Set, Set of 4, Tea Cups, Glass Teapot, Glass Tea...
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning
Updated: 05/14/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 11/20/2021

katiem2, Thank you for the surprise visit. It's always pleasant to be visited by you and to hope that you'll have another one of your educationally entertaining, entertainingly educational posts.
Like both grandmothers and like my father, I appreciate a good cup of chicory or coffee. But chai is something that my family also passed down to me and that my sister Stessily perfects, from the family recipe and from having been there, knowing India like the back of her (left, writing) hand ;-D.

katiem2 on 11/18/2021

Perfect time of year for a warm delicious cup of Indian Chai. :) Thank YOU!

DerdriuMarriner on 02/20/2021

frankbeswick, I agree with you about pateluday's insight of tea added to milk.
Also, your input on tea's designation sometimes as char and char's chai etymology is indeed interesting.

frankbeswick on 02/20/2021

Milk would be linked with the importance of cows in India. We had always thought that milk was added to tea; your suggestion that tea was added to milk is insightful.
Tea is sometimes known as char in Britain. Obviously, this word derives from the word chai.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/19/2021

Veronica, Your water-milk proportions of 4-to-1 (8 ounces water to 2 ounces milk) mirror my UK-style of tea. As with you, I favor a black tea blend. In the evening, I sometimes like to experiment with herbal tea varieties.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/19/2021

pateluday, Thank you for your insights. As you point out, who borrowed from whom is anybody's guess. Both countries, nevertheless, display admirable appreciations of tea.

pateluday on 02/18/2021

Before British popularized tea in India, the standard breakfast drink was milk. Probably Indians started add milk in their chai because of this habit or borrowed it from the British it is anybody's guess.

Veronica on 02/17/2021

I cannot start the day without 2 cups of our tea.. I have just checked in my kitchen . In a 10 Fluid Ounce cup of tea, my proportions are 2 fl ozs of milk the rest is tea . In our house we have a black tea blend.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/17/2021

Veronica, Thank you for your gracious comments. The water-to-milk proportions vary, according to preference, but, no matter the proportions, the taste is still enjoyable.
I appreciate your compliment on my acknowledgment of photographers who generously share their works. Their sharing makes my Internet life easier and also attests to the infinite variety of life's interesting wonders.
I also appreciate that you noted my source list. Both Anupy Singla and Suvir Saran have justifiedly stellar reputations. Anupy Singla previously was a respected journalist, so we are all benefiting from her career change.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/17/2021

LPerry, Almond milk and organic honey enhance North Indian spiced tea's smoothness, and their delicious healthiness is another plus.

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