We leaned forward and peered into the bubbling pot of masala chai, savoring the soothing aromas of cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger.
Hosted by a local woman in her home in Orchha, India, our cooking class was a simple yet spectacular experience – a hands-on learning lab that took place on the floor of a living room.
Using a two-burner stove and fresh ingredients, Rajni taught us how to create an epic Indian feast. Throughout the class, her two boys bounded home from school, the youngest with a giant mango grasped in his hands for us to share. Afterward, the chef proved herself to be a skilled henna artist as well.
Our meal at the cooking class was the best that I had while traveling through the country, and it all started with masala chai.
India’s Ancient Cup
“Masala chai” means “spiced tea,” and is often known in the West redundantly as “chai tea.” Sweet and satisfying, the origin of masala chai dates back more than 5,000 years. Today, the ubiquitous hot beverage is served at street stalls, roadside stops, train stations, restaurants, hotels, and homes across the country. Every vendor seems to have a unique blend of spices, which gives each cup of tea a distinct character.
Do You Take Your Tea with Clay?
In many of the outdoor stalls, masala chai is often served in a single-use clay cup, which adds an earthy nuance to the flavor. Made out of clay from local riverbeds, the cups are usually smashed on the ground after being used once – where they return to the earth from whence they came. It’s a sustainable and hygienic solution that you find at street stalls all over the country.
How About Milk & Sugar?
You can opt for less sugar, an alternate sweetener, or no sweetener at all – but authentic masala chai is always sweet. If you’re using dairy milk, choose whole fat (The preferred variety in India is water buffalo milk). You can also skip the milk altogether and replace it with water if you like.
This recipe makes four servings.
2 cups milk – dairy, soy, almond – choose your favorite!
2 cups filtered water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons black tea (Assam or Darjeeling is best)
2 pieces whole green cardamom
1 piece whole black cardamom
2 pieces whole cloves
1 small piece cinnamon stick – about 2 inches
1 piece black peppercorn
1 small piece fresh ginger root – about the size of your thumb
- First, prepare your spices. Using a mortar and pestle or small food processor, crunch up your spices together: black and green cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, and peppercorn.
- Next, prepare your ginger the same way. You can remove the root’s peel or keep it on, whichever you prefer. Crush it up well.
- In a medium size stove pot over medium heat, bring the water, sugar, and black tea to a boil. Stir the tea occasionally so that the sugar dissolves.
- Once the pot is boiling, add the spices and ginger to the mix, along with two cups milk. Continue boiling for four minutes.
- Strain the masala chai mixture through a fine sieve. Enjoy!
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