Homemade Chai
Homemade Chai

Traditional chai tea is made with full-bodied black tea, star anise, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, white peppercorns, cardamom, whole milk and sugar. Enjoy it in the morning or in the afternoon!

In this recipe

  • What is chai tea?
  • History of Masala Chai
  • The best spices for chai
  • The best ways to brew chai
  • Swaps and Substitutions
  • Make-Ahead Tips Chai
  • More chai recipes

The first time I drank chai was in a small rented room in Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansion (notoriously cheap accommodation). Our small cell block had probably 4 bedrooms and a little old Chinese woman who sat in the entryway and managed them.

The morning after my arrival, I was still reeling from the shock of my expectations of booking the house (“Chungking Mansion, my god, that sounds quite nice”) compared to the reality of the place when the little old lady asked me, “Bye ?” points to a pot on the stove.

What is chai tea?

Boy was I surprised, and in the best possible way. Chai is tea, black tea, but tea steeped in milk, flavored with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise, and sweetened with sugar or honey.

This wonderful chai was the best find in Hong Kong; I couldn’t wait to spend another night at the Mansion just to have some more chai in the morning. That was over 30 years ago. Since then, chai has become much more popular here.

The other day my friend Suzanne served delicious chai and told me more about her experience with it while she was in the Peace Corps in Africa. According to Suzanne, families have chai recipes like curry recipes, each slightly different and each specific to a family.

It’s convenient to make in one pot, and you can use canned sweetened condensed milk — essential in the tropics. If you really want the authentic experience, drink it from a tin mug. This is how Suzanne makes her chai.

History of Masala Chai

Masala Chai has a millennia-old history in India. It is a basic healthy drink in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. Since its inception, it has always been made with a variety of spices. It was served hot and cold, with and without tea leaves, but always with spices.

The version that became the caffeinated drink we know and love today was introduced to India when the British established tea farms in Assam in the 1900s. But tea leaves were still too expensive for ordinary Indians. So vendors added spices, milk, and sugar to maintain a flavorful drink while keeping costs down.

As tea became more affordable in the 1960s, masala chai grew in popularity. It is now enjoyed around the world, in part because South Asian migrant workers are introducing it to places they have moved to work.

In America, masala chai has just morphed into “chai,” which is a misnomer. Masala chai means “spiced tea” in Hindi, and chai just means tea. So saying “chai tea” is like saying “tea tea.”

The best spices for chai tea

Masala chai can be prepared with any number of spices. The usual basic ingredients are green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, black peppercorns and fresh ginger. You can add star anise (as in this recipe), fennel seeds, allspice, white peppercorns, dried ginger and/or nutmeg.

Feel free to experiment with combinations until you land on one you love.

When buying spices to make masala chai, look for spices you like on the large spice aisles in Indian or other international markets. Spice merchants online also have a wide range of options.

A small note, you should use green cardamom pods (not black cardamom which is a different plant). We use black cardamom to flavor Indian dishes when we want to add a little more smoke flavor.

The best ways to brew chai tea

The best way to brew masala chai is to use fresh, whole spices and crush or grind them to release their full flavor.

Make sure you use quality tea and spices that you like and steep for as long as you like. Much of this is a matter of personal taste rather than what may or may not be considered “right”.

Swaps and Substitutions

  • Although masala chai is made from black tea (usually Assam, Ceylon, or Darjeeling), you can use a gunpowder green tea (as in Kasimir), a rooibos (for a decaffeinated option), or any other type of tea you like.
  • Loose leaves or tea bags? Loose leaf tea is stronger and usually higher quality than bagged tea. But tea bags are easy to work with. So it’s really up to you.
  • Instead of milk, you can use any non-dairy milk of your choice, such as coconut, almond, soy, oat, or any other type of milk you like.
  • Feel free to add any sweetener you like. In India they use an unrefined sugar called jaggery. Maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, coconut sugar, stevia, any sugar substitute, or even evaporated milk work great.

Tips for make-ahead chai

You can easily double this recipe and cook the spices in a saucepan or slow cooker. Omit the milk, but steep the tea to taste. You can add sweeteners at this point or just before serving. Chill and store in the fridge for up to a week. Just add the milk of your choice before serving heated or chilled.

More chai recipes to try!

  • Iced Chai Latte
  • Creamy vegan pudding flavored with chai
  • chai ice cream
  • Boozy Chai Spiced Apple Punch

From the editors of Simply Recipes

Homemade chai

preparation time
2 minutes

cooking time
30 minutes

total time
32 minutes

up to 5 servings

5 cups


  • 1/2 all star anise

  • 10 to 12 all cloves

  • 6 to 7 all pimento

  • 1 heaped teaspoon (or 2 short sticks) Cinammon bark

  • 6 to 7 all white peppercorns

  • 1 cardamom podopen to the seeds

  • 1 Cup water

  • 4 cups whole milk

  • 2 heaped tablespoons high-quality, full-bodied foliage Black tea (Ceylonian or English breakfast)

  • sugar, taste


  1. Boil the spices in water:

    In a 2 quart saucepan, add spices to 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let steep for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on how strong you want the spice flavor to be.

  2. Add milk and boil:

    Add 4 to 6 cups whole milk to the spiced water. If you don’t have whole milk, you can use fat-free or low-fat milk. Just add some cream, a few tablespoons to taste. Bring the milk-spice mixture to a boil and remove from the heat.

  3. Add tea and steep:

    Add tea and steep for 5 to 10 minutes depending on how strong you like your tea. (Option at this point – heat to a simmer and remove from heat.)

    You can add sugar at this point or serve without sugar and let people add whatever amount of sugar they want. Traditionally, sugar is added before serving.

  4. Strain and serve:

    Strain into a saucepan and serve. Add more sugar if you like.

nutritional information (per serving)
134 calories
7g Fat
13g carbohydrates
6g protein
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Hello everybody, Even if you're limited on time and money, I believe you can prepare wonderful food with everyday products. All you have to do is cook cleverly and creatively!