Amanda & Merrill

Crossing My Teas

February 12, 2010

- Amanda

As a drinker of purebred coffees and teas, I was skeptical about chai and its maelstrom of spices, its blast of sugar. I lumped chai drinkers in with owners of tiny, transportable dogs and wearers of miniskirts with UGGs (full disclosure: I almost bought a pair last year. Almost.)

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Then, a few years ago, I was writing about Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, who had just published Mangoes & Curry Leaves. And there in their book was a recipe for Cardamom Chai. I was surprised by the ingredients, which were nothing more than milk, Assam tea, freshly crushed cardamom and sugar. Their chai recipe is one they modeled on Indian chai shops, and is made by boiling the tea for a minute or so before whisking in a cardamom-infused milk and a whisper of sugar. I gave it a try and it soon became not only a personal addiction but a favorite household pick-me-up when our kids were toddlers and the afternoons were long. When I’d call my friend Elyse to set up a playdate, she’d ask, “Are you making the chai?”

Later, another friend introduced me to chai from Chaiwalla in Salisbury, Connecticut. Similar to the Duguid/Alford version, it’s a black tea with the cardamom already mixed in. You have to call to order (860-435-9758; if you don't hear back right away, Mary O'Brien, the owner, may be traveling. She'll get back to you eventually!). The first time I called, Mary took my order, then said, “I’ll send it out today. When you receive it, send me a check.”

“Wow, I like your old-school system of trust,” I said. “Do people ever fail to pay you?” Mary's response was so simple: “Well, if they don’t pay, that’s their problem, isn’t it?” Yes, it is.

If you're a chai drinker or maker, please share your source or recipe – would love to expand my chai horizons. Before you know it, I may be buying a miniature dog.

And here are a couple of brands of chai tea bags that I like -- they're much more in the warm and spicy realm of chai, but I like that flavor, too:

Mighty Leaf Bombay Chai

Mighty Leaf, Bombay Chai

Two Leaves and a Bud, Mountain High Chai

Cardamom Chai

Adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves

Makes about 5 cups, serves 2 to 4

  • About 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Seeds from 1 green cardamom pod, ground
  • 2 heaping tablespoons black tea leaves, preferably strong-tasting Assam tea
  • 2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste


1. Heat the water to a boil. In a separate pan, heat the milk to a boil, stir in the cardamom, cover, and set aside.

2. Place the tea leaves in a heavy pot. Pour in a little of the hot water, then pour it off. Add the remaining hot water. Place over medium heat, bring to a boil, and boil for about 30 seconds, then pour the tea through a strainer into a pot.

3. Add the hot milk by pouring it through a cloth-lined strainer into the tea. Add the sugar and stir. If you wish to froth the tea, pour the mixture into another pot, then pour it back, continuing until it's frothy.

4. Place the pot back over the heat and bring the tea almost to the boil, then pour it into cups.


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susan G. November 8, 2011
Coming to this conversation late, I am also curious about pouring water off the tea leaves. Possibly it was supposed to reduce the caffeine -- a technique that sounded good, but has since been disproved. Did you ever get in touch with the authors?
Normally I do not add anything to teas, but I have found that masala chais taste flat without the sweetener, so it is my only exception. Pauljoseph once gave his recipe (in a foodpickle answer), and for the tea specifies 'dust' -- what's left after the best leaves have been culled.
Rhonda35 February 15, 2010
Mary is my type of gal! I love her philosophy - I too subscribe to the karma/what-goes-around-comes-around philosophy of life! Love this piece because it encourages me to give homemade chai a try (sorry - I'm not really trying to rhyme; it just happened!) Even my sweet tooth finds most chai available in coffee shops, etc. TOO sweet.
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
Happy to make it for you next time I see you!
minniti February 15, 2010
i love this recipe and it's great for a big batch. it's from an old-time yogi who has spent years in india. i buy all of the ingredients (available by bulk) at rainbow grocery.
Victor's Tea Recipe
?For a days worth:
2 - Quarts water?
1 - 3" fresh Ginger root, sliced thin
3 - Whole Cloves ?
2 - Heaped Teaspoons of Coriander seeds (grind fresh)?
2 - Tablespoons of Cardamom Seed (decorticated)?
3 - Stars of Star Anise (broken apart) ?
1 - 6" Cinnamon Stick (broken into small pieces)?
9 - Whole Pepper Corns (crushed)?
2 - Heaped teaspoons Orange Peal
Bring to a boil for at least 10 minutes?Then let sit until you are ready to serve.
To serve:
Bring to a boil again and add:
Darjeeling Tea (loose, 1 Teaspoon per cup)?Milk or Soymilk (to taste)?Serve with honey or sweetener of choice.
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
I bet this is good and intense, a bit like Mighty Leaf's is -- thank you so much for taking time to write it out for all of us!
mesato February 15, 2010
What might be a reasonable estimate of the equivalent number of whole cardamom seeds per pod? I have whole seeds but not the pods.
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
I just opened up a bunch and counted the seeds and it seems like 8 to 10 is a safe average.
Rose February 14, 2010
I love Chai, there is a stall at the local markets which sells it hot or iced. Have you ever had it with soy milk and just a touch of honey? It is really good and adds a little more to the flavour than cows milk.
Your recipe sounds good, have been meaning to make it from scratch, but haven't yet.
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
I haven't made it with soy milk -- will give it a try.
Snuzin February 14, 2010
Love the mortar and pestle in the pic. Where can I find it?
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
And thanks!
Shelf L. February 14, 2010
We love Arvinda's Chai Masala. It's wonderful in tea and this Valentine's Day we made her wonderful macerated cherry chai compote. It's the perfect V day dessert topping.
Check out the recipe here -
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
Thank you for letting us know -- and for the link to your post!
barr February 14, 2010
Teaism (Washington D.C.) makes a wonderful chai blend. I really love it and to it I add just 1 slice of fresh ginger while it boils and then steeps. I order it on line, make a large batch and keep it for a week. It's really wonderful chilled too. I think you would like this one. You can sweeten it to taste with honey, agave or just sugar.
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
Thank you so much!
Adriana February 14, 2010
Oh, I really like this! The American version of chai is so often cinnamon-heavy and too sweet. I love the cardamom and the lighter sugar in this recipe.
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
Glad you do -- the simplicity and emphasis on woodsy tea and spice appealed to me, too.
Kelsey B. February 14, 2010
I love chai and definitely go a touch heavier on the milk when I make it. In nyc my favorite chai is at Bouchon (an afternoon walk there for chai was my fav treat when my daughte was
An infant and the afternoons were long... ) Oren's has good chai too.I liike to sweeten mine with honey or
Simple syrup. I have a great little chai cookbook I use that starts with tea variations
Then you use them for chai cheesecake, cookies, biscotti. Also, for the record I don't
Own uggs or even crocs (they are one and the same to me) neither does my daughter, and no portable dogs, either! :)
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
I've been to Bouchon Bakery so many times and never noticed that they serve chai -- adding that to my list! Glad you are UGG- and little-dog-free. I, however, do own Crocs. Don't tell anyone.
Midge February 14, 2010
Just made this (a total treat w/ slice of chocolate bundt cake, by the way) and was also curious about pouring off water from the tea leaves..
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
Hi Midge, I tried to email the authors Naomi and Jeffrey but their address has changed. Will try to reach them another way -- and hope to have an answer for you soon.
SallyM February 13, 2010
Here in the Bay Area teens wear Uggs with jeans (usually when it's cold) but in Southern California they wear Uggs with shorts or short skirts and drink venti frapuccino's - they probably have small dogs too. In the Bay Area we use Oregon chai or make our own - my friend, Alla's recipe is delicious - she learned this recipe when she lived in India. To one cup milk, add one cup water, crush two pepper corns, one cardamon pod and one clove and add to milk/water mixture, add a little juggery (indian block sugar) to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let it boil for a very short time, add a teaspoon of black tea and turn it off. Let it brew as long as you like, to taste. Alla uses black tea from the local Indian store because it has a full flavor. This makes two cups of warm, spicy chai - one for you and one for a friend. Enjoy
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
This sounds delicious, and I like the addition of jaggery, which makes me wonder if the sugar called for in the cardamom chai (above) was simply an adaptation.
Janneke V. February 12, 2010
I'm a big chai tea lover and for those who plan to visit Australia, I can recommend a nice place in Melbourne at Glenferrie rd called Mario's where they serve a nice one. I had to learn how to make my own back in Holland because you can hardly find it here. this is my recipe:
Amanda H. February 12, 2010
Great -- both a recommendation AND a recipe. Thanks!
Amanda H. February 12, 2010
And sorry we don't auto-link in comments yet, but hopefully soon.
raspberryeggplant February 12, 2010
Having grown up drinking masala chai, I get very irritated when people call the drink "chai tea" - they're calling it "tea tea" which makes no sense.

The American version of chai is horrendous - loads of sugar, extraneous and erroneous flavorings (there is NO vanilla is masala chai), and poor quality black tea.

Real masala chai is made with cardamom and the other spices vary by region - my mom adds ginger and cloves and some of her friends also add cinnamon and black pepper. But cardamom is the constant. (Some Indians even put cardamom in coffee....I do not condone such practices!)

Also, really good masala chai is made with about 1/3 milk and 2/3 water. Amanda, your recipe leads me to believe that you are drinking anemic masala chai! Although the frothing method is a great tip - it's how Indians froth their tea/coffee and they also do this to cool it down (since it's just come from boiling on the stove).

Amanda H. February 12, 2010
Just scoured my post in a panic that I'd called it "chai tea." Thanks for the interesting details on chai -- and it's funny that you say this version is "anemic" because when my husband makes it he uses much more milk, and truth be told, I prefer his version. Also the instructions that come with Mary's chai call for 1/2 milk, 1/2 water.
drbabs February 13, 2010
Me too, oops. I used the milk frother tonight too--really good!
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
I love when people report back with their findings -- thanks!
mrslarkin February 12, 2010
I need a cup of this right now. And someone to massage my feet whilst I drink it. Amanda, in #2 are we basically wetting the tea leaves in the heavy pot, and then pouring that liquid out? Can i be lazy and skip this step? Also, I'm going to try using my hand-pump milk frother for the frothing step. or if you have an aerolatte, I bet that would work great too.
Amanda H. February 12, 2010
Yes, be lazy! I usually do that, too.
AntoniaJames February 12, 2010
What is the purpose of wetting the leaves and pouring off that water?
mrslarkin February 12, 2010
P.S. milk frother worked great! Sadly, no foot massage. :(
Amanda H. February 16, 2010
mrslarkin, glad the milk frother worked! And Antonia, I tried to email Naomi and Jeffrey but they changed their email address. I'll keep on it and let you know about the tea leaf detail as soon as I can.
monkeymom February 12, 2010
I am also wary of chai.The simplicity of your recipe is very intriguing. Will have to get over my own biases and give it a try...
Amanda H. February 12, 2010
Let us know what you think.
bluepepper February 12, 2010
Love me some chai. I usually leave the cardamon pods whole (tho I'll definitely try grinding next time round) and I add a couple of cloves too.

Meanwhile, this all reminds me of one of my favorite Simpsons quotes, Lisa on her main interests in life: "Oh, you know... tai chi... chai tea..." :)
Amanda H. February 12, 2010
Love that quote.
AntoniaJames February 12, 2010
What a great post, Amanda. Love the story about Mary O'Brien! And what a nice, simple recipe . . . I know I'll like it, because cardamom, standing alone, has such an elegant taste. I've tried numerous recipes for chai, most from Indian food writers, and three or four different bulk varieties of "Chai masala" (tea spice, which one adds to loose black tea) from local Indian groceries. The latter tend to be much too hot for my taste, as they seem to be heavy on the pepper. I've tried three or four different commercial chai tea blends (dry, including the Mighty Leaf), but of all these different options -- including the homemade mixes -- my favorite is Peet's chai, loose in the tins. It has just a bit of a kick (not sure whether it's the big pieces of ginger or the pepper . . . probably the former). I steep the tea/spices in just boiled water then add a fair bit of hot milk and a few drops of maple syrup. The quality of tea is nice, so you can steep it a good long time, getting the most from the flavors of the spices. The Peet's mix, loose in the tins, is infinitely better than the bags, which probably have smaller pieces of spice in them, so you don't get as much spice flavor. I look forward to trying this recipe, though. Amanda, why the first step of pouring over then pouring off?
Amanda H. February 13, 2010
That's a great question -- I assumed it had something to do with bitterness. Hoping someone here on the site can tell us.
mnr_t February 12, 2010
Love the shortcut that mixes ground cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon with Eagle Brand milk. Keep it in fridge, and add 1-2 T to a cup of any hot tea -- not exactly authentic, but delish!
Amanda H. February 12, 2010
Never heard of that shortcut -- reminds me of old-fashioned lemon syrup which you use in much the same way, stirring it into water and sparkling water.
bluejeangourmet February 12, 2010
my second-ever blog post coincided with Mother's Day & so I posted my North Indian family's chai recipe, which always wins converts. the pictures don't do it justice (we were still learning!), but since my family exports tea, I hope you'll trust me on this one:

when I'm feeling lazy, I swear by loose-leaf Rishi Masala Chai. it's got the right spice "bite" & is worth every penny.
Amanda H. February 12, 2010
I couldn't get your link to work -- is it correct? And would love to know where you buy Rishi Masala Chai from.
bluejeangourmet February 12, 2010
amanda, sorry the short link didn't cooperate--here's the long version:

my local Whole Foods sells Rishi Masala Chai & other Rishi teas in big aluminum canisters near their coffee bar. looks like you can also buy it online: (as I peruse their website, I see my favorite tea is also fair trade & organic, dang!)
Amanda H. February 13, 2010
Thanks for the follow up -- your chai recipe looks great. Anyone reading this, check it out!