For many Indians, our chai experience begins with our parents drinking chai with an occasional Sunday breakfast. Every morning and evening we always had hot chai brewing in our house. Slowly transitioning into drinking chai with friends, late-night singing sessions sipping a hot cup of tea by a campfire with a guitar. Chai is the amalgamation of culture, hospitality, kindness, and tradition. It is an integral part of the rhythm of life. In India, you can get a hot cup-a-chai on every street corner at any time of the day or night.
At The Chai Bar, we endeavor to bring to the American lifestyle this wonderful experience called Chai in its most authentic form. We have taken inspiration from every corner of India to create an ensemble of distinct drinks, making the traditional, innovative.
It takes practice and patience to brew Chai. We understand that a truly satisfying drink of Chai stems from a labor of love, but for those who get it right, there is nothing quite as relaxing and energizing so today we are sharing our trade secret step by step guide on how to brew the perfect chai.
Attention to detail -
Making freshly brewed Chai is an art. There are a lot of variables to play with. Temperature, water, timing, tea/water ratio, spices, milk, and of course the kind of tea blend you use.
Since we have the most important ingredient nailed, we should be able to make pretty good chai using our blends.
Let's start with the basics-
- Using the right Pot: Traditionally, tea is made in a cast iron kettle or aluminum pot, however, these are tough to clean. Today we are spoilt for choice with easy to clean pots. Our favorite is the granite finish pot by master class. These are easy to clean and use for daily chai making. Note: Make sure you use the right size of pot for the right quantity of chai.
- Choosing the right burner: You can use ceramic, gas, halogen, electric, or induction to make chai however you will have to tweak the recipe cook time based on the size of your burner and the time it takes to reach the first and second boil. Make sure to pick a medium-size burner and use a medium flame/ heat setting. Note: A good point to determine the pot size is to look at the flame. If the flame is dancing around your pot rather than under it then your pot is smaller than the burner and you need to go down a size.
For 1 cup chai, we use 1 quart size pot on a medium size burner, set on a medium size flame.
The deets -
THERE ARE 2 WAYS TO DO THIS
1. For a quick brew
- Mix milk + water and bring it to a simmer.
- Add 1 tbsp. or recommended tea blend + 2 tsp sugar
- Boil for 4 minutes or more
- Strain and enjoy!
2. For a more traditional brew -
Step 1: Add 1 cup water to 1 quart size pot
Make sure to use a cup measure the first few times. Too much water and your tea will not turn out as creamy or flavorful as we'd like.
If you're using plant-based milk please reduce the amount of water and follow the chart below for measurements.
Add the spices. Shop spices here
Chai is such a versatile beverage that you can make it almost to any taste you'd like. From Clove to fennel the list is endless.
We would always recommend trying the blend as is before experimenting with spices.
If you do choose to add spices, the key is in balancing the right quantity of the right spices. Begin by lightly crushing the spices in a mortar and pestle or simply use a rolling pin/ broad blade knife or a heavy pan to coarsely crush them on a chopping board.
If you want to leave the blending to the pros you can buy MASALA CHAI .
If you prefer a sweeter heat you can add cinnamon,
For a nutty spice, you can add cardamom
For a fresh spice, you can add pepper
For some wellness and warmth, you can add ginger
If you want to experiment with fresh herbs you can add mint, basil, or lemongrass, at this stage.
After adding spices and freshly grated ginger, simmer the chai for about 3 to 4 minutes. But if gingery chai isn’t your thing, use just a slice of fresh ginger or a pinch of ginger powder instead of grating.
TEA'P: If you do not like a spicy kick or want low heat, do not add extra spices to blends like Masala Chai/ Rose Cardamom Chai.
Step 3: Adding Tea
Once the water + spices mix is at a rolling boil, you add the chai blend. Do try to follow the recipe on our box for the best results. Adding the chai blend too soon will make the final tea taste more bitter than we would like. Make sure to allow the tea to steep in the water before adding milk. We find it makes a stronger more flavorful infusion so try not to add the milk too soon.
TEA'P: If you're using plant-based milk please reduce the amount of tea blend and follow the chart below for measurements.
Step 4: Adding Sugar
After adding the tea blend wait for the brew to reach a rolling boil then you can add white cane sugar/ brown sugar/ raw sugar/ crystal sugar. If using jaggery or honey then make sure you add it after you strain your Chai. If you want to skip this step, you can always have sugar cubes handy for guests to plonk into their cup of Chai after straining.
TEA'P: Stir the brew gently so the sugar won't stick to the bottom of your pot.
Step 5: Adding Milk
Things are getting real now! Adding the right amount of milk at the right time is really important in determining how your chai turns out.
For a creamy richer drink, we like using thick, full-fat cow milk or dairy-free milk such as our full-fat Oat, or Coconut. If you are using plant-based milk, do try the recipes from our No-Moo-Brew
We have also made a conversion chart below in this post to help you add the right portion of milk to your chai.
TEA'P: If you do add the milk too soon or add a little too much milk just boil the tea down until it becomes as deep as you'd like.
Step 6: The First Boil
To emulsify the flavors of the spices and tea blend in the milk, the tea has to be brought to a first boil- rise.
For one cup tea, for the first boil should take about 2 mins after adding milk (It should look like the photo below)
Let the brew rise to the brim and then reduce the flame.
Then allow it to simmer on a low flame for 1 min
TEA'P: The time needed for the first boil will vary based on the size of your pot, quantity of tea you're making, the kind of heat source you are using, and the heat setting of your heat source.
Please make sure to keep a close eye on the chai while bringing it to the boil to avoid any messes and spills.
Step 7: The Second Boil
This is the last step to extract all the flavor from the tea leaves.
Allow the brew to rise to the brim, then turn off the heat.
Step 8: Strain
For best results use a double mesh strainer and strain the piping hot tea as soon as you turn the heat off. Discard the strained leaves and spices.
Do not allow the tea leaves to sit in the brew after turning the heat off as this might result in a bitter chai.
Step 9: Serve with your favorite snacks
Tea can be served with savory snacks like samosa, croissant, cookies, or more delicate pairings. For ideas on Tas'tea pairings read our post - Tas'tea Pairings Part I & Tas'tea Pairings Part II
CAN YOU REUSE THE BREWED TEA LEAVES ?
We would not recommend re-using the brew after straining for a few reasons.
a. The best flavor from the tea leaves and spices we use is extracted in the first use and what is left after straining won't give you a good brew the second time.
b. Since we are adding milk, once strained the tea leaves and spices left behind in the strainer could potentially turn bad before you re-use them later.
CAN YOU SKIP ADDING MILK TO THE BREW WHILE MAKING CHAI AND ADD MILK LATER ?
We think the best traditional chai is made by following the recipe above. If you skip the step of adding milk and only steep the tea in water, strain, and add milk later you might not get as much flavor in your brew as the milk will not have steeped with the tea and spices.
CAN YOU MAKE CHAI WITHOUT MILK ?
If you like drinking black tea, we would recommend trying Astitva
. This is our classic blend.
If you are making black tea with a spiced chai blend please use lesser than the recipe recommends.
CAN YOU STORE BREWED CHAI FOR LATER ?
As a rule of thumb, do not store any chai before straining.
After straining, some recipes like Mangalyam
iced spiced chai or Sugrisma
iced summer masala chai call for overnight refrigeration to help build the flavor profile.
- our herbal immuni'tea booster can be stored and sipped on all-day
In terms of masala chai or any other hot brew made with milk, it tastes best when it's hot and fresh but if you want to make 2 cups in the morning and keep one for later we would not recommend keeping it for over the counter.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN THE CHAI IS READY TO STRAIN ?
The best color comparison is terracotta. If you want a string -"Karak" chai, you want the color to be that of a terra cotta pot.
If you prefer a milder more creamy brew please refer to the flavor profile for a milder color comparison on the label of each chai blend.
DO YOU NEED A DOUBLE MESH STRAINER ?
The best way to strain chai is by using a double mesh strainer to get the finer particles out of the brew. If you do not have a double mesh strainer you could strain the brew 2 times or skip the fuss and simply allow the strained brew to settle in the cup before sipping.
If you have any more questions please comment below.
We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive guide to making chai.
Now you're all set to par'tea! Upload pictures of your chat on Instagram and don't forget to tag The Chai Bar
Have a lovely weekend!
Co-authored by Sargam Merchant and Madura Chaudhari