How-To & Diy

Homemade Vanilla Bean Chai Syrup

January 14, 2014

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Lillie Auld of Butter Me Up Brooklyn is condensing all the flavors of your favorite chai into a spicy-sweet syrup you can use in your tea or coffee anytime.

Vanilla Bean Chai Syrup from Food52

Shop the Story

When we enter firmly into the stretch of January, February, and March, I am always on the lookout for new recipes to add to my warm beverage repertoire. Last year, I was thrilled when I came across the unbelievably simple idea -- you know, the kind that makes you think, why didn't I think of that?! -- for chai syrup in a newspaper in Oregon (and Oregon knows chai). I couldn't wait to give it a go. 

More: Hot drinks to keep you warm.

The original recipe called for a timid amount of simple spices. I found that I wanted more kick, so I added double the amount of spice along with the seeds from a whole vanilla bean and a hint of white pepper and ginger. The recipe couldn't be easier: Mix sweetened condensed milk with practically all the contents of your spice cabinet. But when a spoonful or two is stirred into a hot cup of black tea the result is spicy and milky-sweet. It will keep in the fridge for six months, but I can say from experience it won't last that long.

Vanilla Bean Chai Syrup

Makes about 1 3/4 cups

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped


In a medium bowl mix together sweetened condensed milk, spices, and vanilla bean seeds until combined.

Transfer syrup to a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the fridge for up to six months.

To serve, stir a spoonful or two of syrup into a cup of hot black tea.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Lillian Auld

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Katie Z.
    Katie Z.
  • ButterYum
  • Claire Levitt
    Claire Levitt
  • Maura NíConnell
    Maura NíConnell
  • Heather
I was born and raised in Seattle. I moved to New York in 2004, and it has been a love/hate relationship ever since. I moved to Brooklyn in 2010. I have no idea what took me so long. Brooklyn is filled with awesomeness. I love all things made with butter, drinking bourbon, and wearing leggings. I do not own a Kitchen Aid mixer (because I haven’t gotten married yet) or have one single drawer in my kitchen (the joys of apartment life) and my counter can’t accommodate a rolling pin without hitting the stove. Yet, somehow baked goods and other kitchen treats make it out alive to butter y’all up. Please email me at [email protected].


Katie Z. May 11, 2014
New favorite beverage: pour some cold brewed black tea with a spoonful of this syrup into a mason jar with ice and shake until frothy! Instant iced chai! So tasty! Thanks for the great recipe :)
ButterYum January 28, 2014
Yummers - love chia tea so I can't wait to give this a try. Btw, cardamom is spelled wrong in your recipe - just thought I'd point that out (I hate when typos slip through).
Claire L. January 28, 2014
How can this be modified for us lactose intolerant people? Would coconut milk work?
Katie Z. May 11, 2014
What if you substituted coconut milk in this homemade sweetened condensed milk recipe and then followed as above? I'm sure that would be super tasty! You might not need as much sugar when making the condensed milk, since coconut milk is a little sweeter than cow's milk. Using straight coconut milk wouldn't be quite right, since one of the perks of this recipe is that it includes the sweetener, too.
Maura N. January 24, 2014
I got to know and love Chai Tea when I lived in Seattle for eleven years. When I try to tell my friends here in Atlanta about Chai tea, they look at me as though I have cabbages growing out of my ears. Ah, but they don't know the sheer joy of a Chai tea latte. Mmmm. Now I've got to get to the store and buy the ingredients!
Heather January 21, 2014
I saw the same recipe you started with about a year ago and have been making it to enjoy daily ever since. Lasts me about 2-3 weeks, but I have used it to flavor oatmeal for breakfast. I am addicted to it! I will have to try your amped up version, the added ginger and pepper sound great! I want to try it on cinnamon rolls instead of the usual glaze and on ice cream as well. And no digestive issues here, and I am sensitive to those, hence the oatmeal.
Korena V. January 19, 2014
OHMYGOSH this is the best idea ever! I have a can of condensed milk in the pantry with this written all over it!
PrayerPoseMom January 19, 2014
Genius! I can't wait to try this!
Vanilla T. January 19, 2014
sounds dee-licious! Will make some now for my afternoon cuppa chai
JessieV January 19, 2014
Whoa. Must Make!! THANK YOU for this recipe!
EatsMeetsWest January 18, 2014
Usually when I make Garam Masala Chai (I'm an Indian living in Toronto, and this tea is an everyday breakfast staple), I use Orange Pekoe tea bags instead and before the water comes to a boil, I add:

- 1/8 of a teaspoon of Garam Masala powder, found pre-made in Indian grocers, specialty stores or supermarket aisles
- 1 crushed cardamom pod
- 2-3 slices of crushed ginger root
- 2 tsp of cinnamon-sugar (just some ground cinnamon mixed into sugar)
- A little milk

It's a similar concept, but I have a feeling the condensed milk adds a dash of amazing :) .

Be warned, though: since this tea has an abundance of spices, it is best to use the syrup/spice mix sparingly during the week, not everyday. I've had the experience of disrupting my digestive system simply because I added 2 tsp cinnamon-sugar and 1/8 tsp Garam Masala to my one cup of tea everyday. Just a precaution to other chai lovers out there :)
Jacqueline O. January 16, 2014
Just made this! It's amazing. I'm gonna make a giant batch of it next time
Mama M. January 15, 2014
OMG yes indeed why didn't I think of that !!!
buttermeupbk January 15, 2014
@suzanne yes! this recipe is really more of a guide; feel free to adjust the spices to suit your tastes. enjoy!
Nikki S. January 15, 2014
Can't wait to try this!
Sofia January 14, 2014
Can't wait to try this. I have been looking for a way to make a cardamon-rich chai at home. To Sewassbe, I am sure that you could infuse regular milk with whole spices. I am not sure how it would work with condensed milk because it is so thick. Regular milk wouldn't keep as long, of course. But you could sweeten to taste. I might try it myself.
Pamela P. January 14, 2014
I just made this and it is exceptional!
buttermeupbk January 15, 2014
yay! so happy to hear that it was enjoyed!
Suzanne J. January 14, 2014
Could I use black pepper rather than white?
gourmandgardener January 15, 2014
I used black pepper and it's great.
Sewassbe January 14, 2014
The european pastry shop I used to work at did it this way, but the ground spices always left grainy bits in the bottom of the cup. Any suggestions for making this by steeping whole spices in some kind of milk-type solution? Y'know, so you get the flavor without the gritty bits?
Dina M. January 15, 2014
why don't you pour the syrup through a tea bag? you can let it sit as long as you'd like in the cup to infuse the spices, since it won't fall apart. i think i'm going to try exactly that!
buttermeupbk January 15, 2014
that is a great idea!
EatsMeetsWest January 18, 2014
You could also try pouring the mixture through one of those disposable coffee filters. They allow for all the liquid to pour through without any debris getting caught in.
Phillip |. January 14, 2014
Yummm! One of my favorite drinks.