Homemade Chai

Looking for a warm, comforting drink to enjoy on a fall evening? Feeling like your morning cup of coffee is boring, and giving you the jitters? Then chai might just be the perfect drink for you! Chai is a traditional drink from India, though it is commonly enjoyed throughout South Asia. It’s a black tea boiled together with an array of spices, milk and sugar to create a frothy, luxurious beverage that is perfect to curl up with on a fall afternoon.

Every family has their own special way of making their chai, which is why no matter whose house you go into, their chai will always taste slightly different. Recipes and techniques are passed down through generations, and evolve according to whoever makes its taste. For me, I learned to make chai from sticking to the sides of my mom and her mother, my Nanima, as they made the drink to entertain guests. In our family, offering guests chai is practically a necessity when hosting.

Like with much of Indian cooking, measurements are by no means exact. Measuring with your heart is a completely undervalued skill in my opinion, which is why I thought I would write down some measurements for anyone to follow in this recipe. Chai is forgiving in a way that many savoury dishes are not. It is very difficult to make tea unpalatable by adding too much salt, after all! The measurements below are more of a rough guideline than anything, and a jumping off point for anyone wanting to try to make chai for the first time.

Once you get more confident, try playing with the proportions and adding other spices in! I personally use fennel seeds, green cardamom, cloves and cinnamon in my chai, but other popular options include star anise, black peppercorns, ginger, and even mint. Play around with the flavours and find a combination that works for you!

Three silver canisters arranged in a triangle. The top left is filled with cloves, the bottom left with fennel seeds and the right with green cardamom pods.

Homemade Chai

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Serves 2

3 cups water 
1/2 tbsp fennel seeds 
2-3 green cardamom pods
1 clove
About 1 inch of a cinnamon stick
1 teabag (black tea)
1 1/4 cups of milk
Sugar to taste

1. Start by adding water to a pot at medium heat and bring to a low simmer.

2. Add the fennel seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon and clove to a mortar and pestle and roughly grind. The spices do not have to be fully ground down into a powder, the intent here is to break open the exteriors to get a stronger flavour.

3. Once the water is bubbling lightly, add the spices and let boil for 1 – 2 minutes. During this time, the water should take on a light green colour. At this point, add the tea bag and continue to let boil for another 2 – 3 minutes. The longer you allow the water to boil at this stage, the stronger the chai will be.

A top down view of a boiling pot full of water, fennel seeds, crushed cardamom pods and a teabag.

4. After the tea has boiled, add the milk. At this point, you do not want to take your eyes off of the pot. Milk is notorious for boiling extremely quickly, and we don’t want to have to clean up a mess. Bring the milky chai to a boil and let the foam come almost all the way up to the top before bringing the heat down to low. Repeat this process two to three times, as this aerates the chai and gives it a more frothy texture.

A top down view of a pot, filled with milky chai. The milk has bubbled into a foam and comes about 3/4 of the way up the pot.

5. Strain your chai into your favourite mug, add sugar or sweetener of your choosing and enjoy!

As with everything else in this recipe, the amount of milk can be adjusted based on your preferences. I personally like my chai quite thick, and am generous with the amount of milk I add. Additionally, feel free to swap out regular milk for your favourite plant based option. I have tried oat milk in my chai before and thoroughly enjoyed it!

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