Masala chai

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Masala chai
मसाला चाय
Masala Chai.JPG
Masala chai served with biscuits
Alternative namesSpiced tea
TypeFlavoured tea
Place of originIndia [1]
Region or stateIndian subcontinent
Main ingredientsBlack tea, milk, spices, sugar (optional)

Masala chai (//, lit.'mixed-spice tea'; Hindi: मसाला चाय) is an Indian tea beverage made by boiling black tea in milk and water with a mixture of aromatic herbs and spices.[2] Originating in India[1][3] the beverage has gained worldwide popularity, becoming a feature in many coffee and tea houses.

The term chai originated from the Hindi word chai, which was derived from the Chinese word for tea, cha (see Etymology of tea). In English, this spiced tea is commonly referred to as masala chai,[4] or simply chai,[5] even though the term refers to tea in general in the original language. According to stories, it originates from modern India and said that the king created masala chai as an ayurvedic energizing and refreshing beverage.[4] Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte or chai tea latte for their version to indicate that it is made with steamed milk, much like that used to make a caffè latte, but mixed with a spiced tea concentrate instead of espresso. By 1994, the term had gained currency on the U.S. coffeehouse scene.[6]


Spices used for masala chai.


The base tea is usually a strong black tea such as Assam, so the spices and sweeteners do not overpower it. Usually, a specific type of Assam is used called mamri. Mamri tea has been cured in a special way that creates granules as opposed to "leaf" tea. It is inexpensive and the tea most often used in India. However, a wide variety of teas is used to make chai. Most chai in India is brewed with strong black tea, but Kashmiri chai is brewed with gunpowder tea.


Spices and cut tea leaves.

The traditional masala chai is a spiced beverage brewed with different proportions of warming spices. The spice mixture, called karha, uses a base of ground ginger and green cardamom pods. Other spices are usually added to this karha including one or more of cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, peppercorn, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom seeds, ginger root, honey, vanilla, and other spices.[7][8] In the Western world, using allspice, to either replace or complement the cinnamon and clove, is also common.

Traditionally, cardamom and ginger are the dominant notes, supplemented by other spices such as cloves, or black pepper; the latter two add a heat to the flavour and the utilization of cloves is more typical and popular throughout India. The traditional composition of spices often differs by climate and region in Southern and Southwestern Asia.

For example, in Western India, cloves and black pepper are expressly avoided, and lemongrass is also often included.[citation needed] The Kashmiri version of chai is brewed with green tea instead of black tea and has a more subtle blend of flavourings: almonds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and sometimes saffron. In Bhopal, typically, a pinch of salt is added.

Other possible ingredients include nutmeg, mace, black cardamom, chilli, coriander, rose flavouring (where rose petals are boiled along with the loose-leaf tea), or liquorice root. A small amount of cumin is also preferred by some people. A less common addition to the spice is lemon grass, giving the chai a unique, aromatic aroma and flavour.


Traditionally in India, water buffalo milk is used to make chai.[9][10] Masala chai is made by mixing one part milk with two to four parts water and heating the liquid to near boiling (or even full boiling). Some people like to use sweetened condensed milk in their masala chai to double as the sweetener. For those who prefer to drink chai without milk, the portion is replaced with water.


Plain white sugar, Demerara sugar, other brown sugars, palm or coconut sugars, syrup, or honey are used. Jaggery is also used as a sweetener, mostly in rural parts of India. While some prefer unsweetened chai, some sugar enhances the flavour of the spices.

Some recipes use up to three tablespoons of sugar in 3½ cups of chai. Sugar is typically added to suit the drinker.


A boy in Mysore preparing masala chai: As it is prepared by decoction, preparation usually includes straining tea from the solids.

The simplest traditional method of preparing masala chai is through decoction, by actively simmering or boiling a mixture of milk and water with loose-leaf tea, sweeteners, and whole spices. Indian markets all over the world sell various brands of chai masala, (Hindi चाय मसाला [chāy masālā], "tea spice") for this purpose, though many households or tea vendors, known in India as chai wallahs,[11] blend their own. The solid tea and spice residues are strained off from masala chai before serving.

The method may vary according to taste or local custom; for example, some households may combine all of the ingredients at the start, bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately strain and serve; others may leave the mixture simmering for a longer time, or begin by bringing the tea leaves to a boil and only add the spices toward the end (or vice versa).

A common Maharashtrian practice for preparation of one cup of chai is to first combine one half cup of water with one-half cup of milk in a pot over heat. Sugar may be added at this point or after. Ginger is then grated into the mixture followed by adding a "tea masala". Although the ingredients may vary from region to region, "tea masala" typically consists of crushed ginger, crushed cardamom, lemongrass, cloves, and cinnamon.[12] The mixture is brought to a boil and 1 teaspoon of loose black tea[13] is added. The chai is immediately taken off the heat, covered, and allowed to sit for about 10 minutes to allow the black tea to infuse into the chai. The chai is then strained and served.

Consumption of tea in the Indian subcontinent[edit]

A man in Kolkata, with a chadaani for serving nine glasses of cha (Bengali of tea).

In 1788 British East India Company began considering uprooting seedlings of tea from China. British tea cultivators were eager to introduce Chinese tea and their techniques to India.[14] Masala tea is a very popular beverage in the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka). Small, roadside businesses called chai walla, make and deliver tea to people's places of business in a chaidaan, a wooden or metal frame carrier for cups.[15] In Southern India, however, masala chai is not popular; instead, tea mixed with milk and sugar is the normal 'tea'. In the metropolitan city of Mumbai, roadside tea stalls serve smaller cups of tea at a lower budget which is referred to as 'cutting chai', the term 'cutting' referring to the halving of quantity contained in a full cup to reduce the cost of the cup of tea. Circa 2020, the cost of a 'cutting' cup of tea varies between ₹6 and ₹10 - a full cup costing ₹10 to ₹20.

Consumption beyond the Indian subcontinent[edit]

A soy vanilla chai latte served in Berlin.

As the popularity of masala chai has spread around the world, its nature has changed in various ways beyond the somewhat redundant terminology noted above.

Masala chai is popular in East Africa and the Caribbean.[16][17] It is also quite popular in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; but it's locally known as Karak Tea or Chai Karak شاي كرك.[18]

In Western cultures[edit]

Many Western supermarkets offer teabags of chai which contain an assortment of ground chai spices and require steeping in hot water.

Some American supermarkets also carry bottles of "chai spice" alongside their dried herbs and other spices. Unlike Indian spice mixtures, the American ones are generally made from powdered spices (cassia tends to be the dominant flavour) and sometimes sugar; this mixture can be added last minute to an already-brewed cup of tea as straining off the solids is not needed.

In the West, to better simulate water buffalo milk, one may try using dry or powdered milk; along with the raw or turbinado sugar normally used in India. In addition, as milk consumption in all age groups in the West has started to decrease steadily over the last 50 years, substitutes such as oat and almond milk have emerged as an alternative to water buffalo milk as well.[19] One East-West fusion chai adds a small pinch of dark cocoa powder, indigenous to the Central Americas, to create hot chai-co-latte.

Cold chai[edit]

As an alternative to the hot tea format, several types of cold "chai" beverages have become popular in the United States. These range in complexity from a simple spiced iced tea without milk to a slush of spiced tea, ice, and milk (or nondairy creamer) mixed in a blender and topped with whipped cream.[20] It is essentially different from the original version of a hot beverage.


A roadside chaiwale (chai store) in Jaipur

Non-tea-based variants may be prepared with herbal teas or with the South American beverage yerba mate.

Some coffeehouses in the United States offer a version of masala chai augmented with espresso, but this beverage does not have any one universally recognized name.

Depending on the establishment, chai with added espresso is now called a "java chai," "red eye chai," "turbocharger," "chai charger," "tough guy chai," and the American's preferred "dirty chai," among others.[21][22] However, despite the common use in many localities to use the term "latte" as an abbreviation of "caffe latte" ("cafe latte"), the term "chai latte" does not generally imply the presence of coffee in the beverage; see the discussion of the terminology above (literally, latte is Italian for "milk").

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sengupta, Sushmita. "History of Masala Chai: A Quick Dive Into The Origins of India's Favourite Drink". NDTV. NDTV. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  2. ^ Pitre, Urvashi (September 19, 2017). Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook: Traditional Indian Dishes Made Easy and Fast. Rockridge Press. ISBN 978-1939754547.
  3. ^ "A Brief History of Chai and 5 to Try (or Retry) This Fall". Archived from the original on 15 May 2016. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b "The History of Masala Chai (a.k.a. "Chai Tea")". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  5. ^ "Definition of CHAI". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  6. ^ "Chai latte". Archived from the original on May 30, 2016. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  7. ^ "Karha: the Heart of Chai". Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  8. ^ What is Chai? Archived 2015-04-30 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Sara Perry (1 Aug 2001). The New Tea Book: A Guide to Black, Green, Herbal and Chai Teas. Chronicle Books. p. 40. ISBN 9780811830539.
  10. ^ Outside of India, such as in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, or other European, countries whole-fat cow's milk is usually used. Generally, the main part of masala chai is the masalas like Tulsi, Mulethi, Aswagandha, Tezpatta and other useful ingredients.[1]
  11. ^ "What is a chai wallah?". Chai Wallahs of India. 2013-04-20. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  12. ^ "Recipe for 5 Spice Tea | Tea". Tealicious. Retrieved 2019-05-18.
  13. ^ "Masala Tea". Retrieved 2019-05-18.
  14. ^ Chatterjee, Arup K. (2020). Indians in London From the Birth of the East India Company to Independent India. London: Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 93-89449-19-7. OCLC 1261364928.
  15. ^ "10 objects that define Indian design". 2018-07-20.
  16. ^ Munishi, Michael Oresto; Hanisch, Rachel; Mapunda, Oscar; Ndyetabura, Theonest; Ndaro, Arnold; Schüz, Joachim; Kibiki, Gibson; McCormack, Valerie (2015-08-06). "Africa's oesophageal cancer corridor: Do hot beverages contribute?". Cancer Causes & Control. 26 (10): 1477–1486. doi:10.1007/s10552-015-0646-9. ISSN 0957-5243. PMC 4838015. PMID 26245249.
  17. ^ Planet, Lonely; Fitzpatrick, Mary; Ham, Anthony; Holden, Trent; Starnes, Dean (2012-06-01). Lonely Planet East Africa. Lonely Planet. ISBN 9781743213124.
  18. ^ "Chai Karak: The Popular Drink That's Rapidly Spreading in the Gulf". Khaleejisque. 2011-09-28.
  19. ^ Stewart, Hayden; Dong, Diansheng; Carlson, Andrea. "Why Are Americans Consuming Less Fluid Milk? A Look at Generational Differences in Intake Frequency" (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  20. ^ "Tazo® Chai Frappuccino® Blended Crème | Starbucks Coffee Company". Archived from the original on 2012-08-05. Retrieved 2012-08-13.
  21. ^ "What's a Dirty Chai?". The Spruce. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  22. ^ Travis., Arndorfer (2006). The complete idiot's guide to coffee and tea. Hansen, Kristine. New York: Alpha Books. p. 120. ISBN 9781440626012. OCLC 489450263.

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