Masala Chai: The perfect digestive tea for winter
I confess to being a longtime “tea-totaller” as well as an Indian food lover, and there is nothing I like more than a delicious cup of authentic Indian masala chai. The word “masala” refers to the spiced tea with milk and sugar. ( If you order just “chai” in India, you’ll get a cup of plain black tea.) Historically, Indians viewed tea as daily herbal medicine, and masala chai “recipes” are derived from the Indian Ayurveda system of medicine. Not how we in the western world view the word “medicine”, Ayurveda is primarily a system of daily wellness practices which are intended to help prevent illness and disease; but it also encompasses complex and well developed natural medical protocols and treatments to help cure illness and disease as well. The spices used in Indian cooking, like turmeric, ginger and garlic all have a purpose in promoting health and longevity. Masala chai is the perfect after dinner treat because it’s basically an Ayurvedic medicinal tea formula to help stimulate digestion and prevent digestive problems. It contains cinnamon which helps stabilize blood sugar, ginger which helps stimulate digestion, cardamom which helps prevent gas and bloating, pepper which helps with absorption of nutrients and cloves which help normalize GI flora and protect the GI system from bad bacteria and parasites! One of the reasons masala chai is great in the winter, is that the ginger is a very warming and stimulating herb, which enhances circulation throughout your body and help promote a feeling a warmth. It can literally warm your toes, much better than hot chocolate! While there are many variations and recipes for masala chai, this is one of my favorites. It takes some time, but the authentic taste brings back wonderful memories of India.
I hope you will enjoy this masala chai as much as I do!
This recipe makes two 6 oz mugs of tea.
Indians use full fat whole milk, especially if adding water to simmer the spices. You can substitute lowfat milk but it won’t be as creamy and thick. If you use a dairy free milk, the taste will be different but you can experiment with soy, almond, cashew or hazelnut milk. Using hemp milk may make it a little creamier. If you choose something other than whole milk, then eliminate the water and add the spices and tea directly to the milk to simmer. You may have to simmer it a little longer, and add additional “milk” in order to have a strong enough tea.
2 cups of whole milk
4 inch cinnamon bark stick, broken up to ½ inch pieces
4 green cardamom pods, crushed so seeds are released
6 whole cloves
1 or 2 black peppercorns (optional and to taste)
4 inch piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 tea spoons strong black tea (any black tea will do, but I like Assam)
2 tablespoons of sugar (adjust the amount to your taste). This can be white, turbinado or coconut sugar
a knife or mortar & pestle
a 2 qt saucepan (A ceramic lined pot with a pouring lip is ideal. The milk gets really sticky)
a small or medium mesh strainer
Pour 1 cup of filtered water into the saucepan. Roughly crush or chop the hard spices or break them up in a mortar and pestle a bit, leaving them in chunks but just enough to release their oils and pour them into the pan with the water. Add the chopped ginger and gently simmer the spices for about 10 minutes.
After the spices have simmered, add the tea leaves and continue to simmer for 2 minutes before adding the milk slowly, turning up the heat a bit. As the milk begins to boil and rise, remove it from the heat so it does not boil over, then replace it, turn down the heat to simmer and add the sugar. Continue to simmer the masala chai, removing it from the heat if the milk boils up, until you have the taste and consistency you want. The longer you simmer the chai, the stronger the spices will taste and the creamier consistency you will have.
When the tea is ready, I find it’s easiest to pour it through the mesh strainer into a large 2 or 4 cup pyrex measuring cup with a lip, and then pour into mugs and enjoy!
Lisa Murray RDN, LD