A warming drink that is ubiquitous all over India, masala chai is a blend of bold black tea and various aromatic spices. I’ve also included a recipe for the tea and spice mixture that will allow you to make this delicious Vegan Masala Chai in a matter of minutes.
I first visited India over 10 years ago. I wasn’t vegan then, so I unhesitatingly drank my fair share of masala chai. Served in restaurants, roadside stalls, and inside homes, this hot drink is everywhere and is a favorite among Indians. Everybody seems to have his or her own special recipe for masala chai.
One thing I’ve noticed is that, for many people, cardamom and ginger are the essential and required flavorings, with the other spices left up to one’s taste. Indeed, while I was there, I drank many masala chais that were only flavored with a few crushed cardamom seeds and a smashed knob of ginger. It’s simply delightful that way, but I prefer a more robust chai. Thus, my blend incorporates seven different spices for a full-flavored chai experience.
Of course, it would be best to freshly pound your spices every time you make chai, but for the sake of convenience, I’ve also included a recipe for a Chai Masala Mix. This mix is the actual combination of black tea with spices that you use to make chai and can be kept in an airtight container so that it’s at the ready any time you have a hankering for chai!
Feel free to add any spices you like and subtract ones you don’t. To shake things up, sometimes I throw the following things into this basic recipe:
- chopped up vanilla beans
- dried rose buds
- tulsi (holy basil)
I took my most recent trip to India last year, so traditional milk-based masala chai was out of the question. I did have many cups of milk-free chai (just the steeped tea with spices) and that was pleasant and light. Missing the creamy version though, I developed this recipe to mimic the original experience. I like to serve it with homemade digestive biscuits or any other simple, dunkable cookie.
- 1 cup full-fat nondairy milk (I use a rich soy milk)
- 2 cups water
- 3 Tablespoons coconut milk or 1 Tablespoon coconut cream
- ½ inch piece of ginger, smashed with the side of a knife's blade
- 5 teaspoons Masala Chai Tea Mix (recipe below)
- 4 teaspoons sugar (more or less to taste)
- pinch of sea salt
- Pour nondairy milk, water, and coconut milk or cream, and ginger into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Once the milk has come to a boil, stir in the masala chai mix, sugar, and salt.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and boil the chai for 5 minutes. Make sure to not put the heat on too high or else it may overflow out of the saucepan.
- After 5 minutes of boiling, remove from heat and strain the chai with a sieve into mugs or glasses and serve.
-By coconut cream, I mean the thick, solidified cream that settles on the top of coconut milk if you don't shake it together, not that sweetened Cream of Coconut stuff that's used in piña coladas.
-You can make iced chai by allowing the boiled mixture to cool, then pour it over ice. Iced beverages usually need more of a flavor punch, so go ahead and add 2 more teaspoons of the masala chai mix to the mixture during boiling.
- 50g or about 9-10 Tablespoons black tea leaves, preferably a strong, CTC-style tea (see notes below)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 10 green cardamom pods, seeds only
- 3 whole cloves
- 20 black peppercorns
- 1½ teaspoons fennel seeds
- ½ of a whole nutmeg
- Put the black tea into a container with an airtight lid.
- Using a mortar and pestle, first pound the cinnamon sticks into little chips that are small enough to fit on a small spoon (You'll want them to be small so you get a consistent amount of cinnamon each time you spoon some mix out to make chai). Add them to the black tea.
- Put the cardamom seeds, cloves, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and nutmeg into the mortar and pound them gently. You want to break them up and release the aromatic oils, but you don't need to turn them into powder. Once pounded, put these into the tea container.
- Shake the tea with the spices until well combined and seal the lid. You're now ready to make chai!
-If you don't have a mortar and pestle, use a heavy-bottomed pot or a cast-iron skillet to crush the spices on a cutting board.
-Of course you'll use this mix to make a hot chai beverage, but you can also use it to make a multitude of desserts. Chai-flavored ice cream, panna cotta, and rice pudding are a few examples. Just boil and steep whatever nondairy milk you use in that recipe with this chai mix and proceed with that recipe.
-You can substitute rooibos tea for the black tea if you want a caffeine-free chai experience.