Our Favorite Version of Spiced Chai

That time of year is at hand when those spiced teas, often simply called “chai” here in the U.S., appear in tea shops – both the brick-and-mortar and the online kind. We totally understand. There is something about these teas that appeals to us tea drinkers especially as the weather starts to turn cooler. At our house we have a favorite version of the many out there. We find it typifies the real appeal of this style of tea and so wanted to share our views with you here.

Spiced Chai in India

A common sight on the streets of many cities, large and small, in India is the Chai Wallah. He steeps up a strong and spicy version of masala chai (spiced tea). Some put on quite a show for passersby. Others quietly ply their trade. They serve out this milky, spicy version in small clay cups that are then thrown away, or small glasses, or even handled cups.

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Our Favorite Chai

The winner for us is from Lochan Tea Ltd. and called simply “Masala Chai”, a black-tea-based chai that is true to Indian tea tradition. This spiced tea is definitely a classic and is usually served hot with lots of milk and sugar, but this is mild enough to enjoy straight. We like it so much that we have it available in our online store.

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Ingredients:

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Preparing Indian Style:

You could steep this tea as you would any black tea, but for a more authentic taste experience, try preparing it this way.

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Comparing

See how our spiced chai compares to this authentic version from an Indian restaurant.

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You can’t really tell by the color, since that is largely a matter of how much milk was used and a difference in lighting when the photos were taken. But the flavors were very close. Our was more spicy, but otherwise they were similar.

Becoming a “Chai Snob”

This tea is so authentic that you will soon become a “chai snob,” unable to enjoy any other. But it’s not a bad thing.

The word “chai” means “tea.” Here in the U.S., though, it means a particular style of tea, usually with lots of milk and various spices (often, there is an over-abundance of cinnamon for our taste). There are about as many recipes as there are drinkers of chai.

Many of you have probably had a “chai latté” at one of the many local Starbucks and thought it was sheer chai nirvana. We thought so, too, until having masala chai at a local Indian restaurant. This led us to look into better versions of this wonderful spicy tea since we now found that other versions, including brands like Twinings, were too heavy on one ingredient or another, usually cinnamon (actually, cassia, a cinnamon-like spice that is more common in the U.S.). We tasted one after another until finding just the right one…and also suddenly realizing that we had become “chai snobs.”

Some chai categories that we came up with:

  • Traditional Indian — A balance of black pepper, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in black tea (usually CTC Assam).
  • American style — Leaning toward the cinnamon and nutmeg side, with subtler notes of traditional spices like black pepper, cardamom, ginger, and cloves in black tea.
  • Excessively spiced — Overboard on one or more spices traditionally used, usually black pepper, cardamom, cloves, or cinnamon.
  • Downright “manic” — Containing such things as white chocolate, fruits, flowers, and other non-traditional spices and/or made with a tea other than CTC Assam.
  • Very sad — That tea-dust-and-spices-in-a-bag kind.

Of course, that’s just our assessment as “chai snobs.” You might develop your own categories as you nurture the “chai snob” in you. It’s a journey worth taking. We hope you’ll start with our favorite, or at least include it in your chai tasting lineup. Enjoy!

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