masala chai


Nik Sharma

Hey Friends, I’m a multi-award-winning and best-selling cookbook author and photographer.

Masala Chai | A Brown Table

I decided to get an orchid from the Mountain View Farmer’s market. It’s not like I’ve had a lot of luck with them in the past but they are so beautiful that I find it hard to resist. Let’s just hope this one lasts and after all the flowers are gone, this plant will sprout some new buds. Here’s to some wishful thinking! If you have any orchid tips, do let me know, I need all the help I can get.

Orchids | A Brown TableMasala Chai | A Brown Table

This weekend, my buddies, Alanna of The Bojon Gourmet and Phi of Princess Tofu came over to spend a day. If you follow us on Instagram you might have noticed all the insane amount of eating, cooking and photographing that happened. I took the girls out to try some Indian street food at one of my favorite chaat houses in South Bay, followed by a trip to an Indian grocery store, some pumpkin picking, some cooking, more eating, photography and a whole lot of chatting. And there was chai, we had lots of it, I could think of no better way than to spend my day with these two extremely talented people. 

Masala Chai | A Brown Table

Chai is a ritual habit for some and Indian houses make masala chai in several different ways. Here are some of my tips on making chai at home,

  • I buy loose black tea (tea bags are good) and I generally use the Assam black tea variety at home.
  • Chai (tea) with no spices (masala), is simply called chai in Hindi. There are several different types and combinations of spices that can be added to tea. Some people prefer some more to others. Personally, I prefer green cardamom and ginger in my masala chai, I use them individually or together depending on what I have in the house. Either way of all the spices I’ve listed in my recipe here, green cardamom and ginger are my top choices. (I haven’t shown cloves and peppercorns in the photograph but they are good additions to the masala (spice) blend.
  • Adding the ingredients at the right temperature to the water is important because it helps in infusing the flavors correctly. 
  • When crushing the spices, just crush them once or twice with a mortar and pestle to release the seeds, do not over grind or pound them excessively into a powder. 
  • For sweeteners, you can use sugar, honey or even raw Indian sugar – jaggery. 
  • Milk or any other non-dairy milk is completely optional. 

Masala Chai | A Brown Table

masala chai

yields : 4 cups


4 cups water

1 inch piece ginger root

4 whole green cardamom pods, crushed

1 black cardamom pod, crushed (optional)

1 inch piece cinnamon stick (optional)

6-8 black peppercorns, crushed (optional)

4 whole cloves, crushed (optional)

1 1/2 teaspoons black tea leaves  (Assam tea)

around 1 /2 cup hot milk or what ever kind of vegetarian milk you prefer (rice, soy or nut based) (amount used might be more or less depending  upon your personal preference on how dark or light you want the tea)

sugar to sweeten as needed 

1. Place the water in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium high and add the spices immediately.Bo (I always add either ginger and/or green cardamom, the rest are all optional). 

2. Remove the saucepan from the stove and allow to the spices to infuse for about 4-5 minutes. Place the saucepan back on the stove and bring to a boil on medium high. As soon as the water begins to boil, add the tea leaves and reduce the flame to low. Allow the liquid to boil for about 30 seconds and remove from stove. Cover with a lid and allow to sit for 1 minute. 

4. To serve, pass the hot tea through a tea strainer to get rid of the tea leaves and spices into a teapot or teacup (as needed). Add enough milk to get a light brown color (depends on how dark or light you like your tea) and sweeten as needed. Serve hot with cookies or pastries. 

43 Responses

  1. My Mom has pretty good luck with orchids. One interesting tip was from a Japanese family friend who grows beautiful orchids at home. He waters his orchids by putting a couple of ice cubes on top of the soil in the orchid pot. : ) Thank you for the Chai recipe!

    1. I will try this Michelle, thanks for sharing this. I never knew this ice cube tip, I wonder if the slow release helps the plant.

  2. Yay! That was such a fun and delicious day and I’m so happy to know how to make this perfect, easy, smokey chai now. Thank you for hosting our field trip! Let’s do it again soon. <3

  3. Who can resist a good chai right???
    You know I must be the only one who makes tea at least 5 – times a day and end up only taking few sips and wasting the rest each n every time… it’s so funny my dad calls me a "Tea-Killer" lol
    And now after reading your post in craving chai… again!!!

  4. I’m angsty over the cold(er) weather, this is the perfect beverage to cheer myself up!
    Best of luck with the orchid! Talking to plants seems to make them happy…so ive heard. 😉

    1. I will try that Valerie but I think my dog would be unhappy if I didn’t give him even more attention than he already gets 😉

  5. Really lovely post. I did not realize your Goa roots. One of my dearest friends is from Goa, her husband is from Northern India, just as your family tree. Anyhow, she makes the most wonderful Chai tea. I cannot wait to share your recipe with her, and I cannot wait to try it!

    1. What a great coincidence, Denise! It’s fun to dabble in different cultures and even more fun when it’s food related.

  6. This is such a lovely, lovely post. You capture the ritual of tea-making so perfectly, and so gently. That Phalaenopsis is quite stunning as well. Such a beautiful color! As an orchid-collector, my biggest tip would be to water from the bottom up. Place it in a bowl of room-temperature water, so that the roots can absorb, and leave it for about 15 minutes or until the top is a bit damp. This helps from water getting on the leaves and letting them rot. Also- as the colder months approach, make sure the room is well-ventilated and not too chilly. Good luck! And I can’t wait to be making this masala.

    1. Meghan, I need to try your method. Thank you so much. I’ve been keeping this orchid in the bathroom where it gets a good deal of warmth and ventilation. I hope it makes it through and flourishes a little.

  7. These photos are stunning, Nik! After the mention on Instagram, I was so looking forward to this recipe. I’m a heavy Chai drinker, but I generally opt for pre-spiced chai tea simply because I never knew how to spice it myself. Your tips are so helpful that I’m feeling inspired to try my hand at homemade masala chai this weekend. Sending lots of pro-orchid energy your way!

  8. Incredible photos, Nik! Coming from a Russian household I am a huge tea (‘chai’ in Russian) drinker. It’s a proper ceremony for us so I am definitely not afraid of putting a bit of work into my tea! Excited to try your recipe and drink it in my pretty cups. 🙂

  9. Wow, this sounds amazing. I love the addition of ginger too. You have me believing that it’s possible for me to make my own! 🙂

  10. Hi Nik! I also love orchids. I have had a couple of plants for about 5 years…but am not an expert… number three wilted away. I think your plant is the same as mine- a phalaenopsis. I water them by placing 4-6 ice cubes around the roots once a week. Its fairly humid where I live, you may need to supplement with one or two ice cubes between weekly watering. I also got some orchid food and I feed them once every few months after blooming. They need bright indirect light. They like moderate temps similar to people with a cooler night. They will begin to look lighter green before blooming- they have to be a little stressed to bloom. Mine usually have a large bloom around Christmas and a smaller bloom in late spring which means year round blooms! I just got brave enough to re-pot them this spring we’ll see how it goes! By the way, the chai looks great!

  11. I love your recipes and associated stories. I have recently become more attune middle eastern spices after becoming a regular at a nearby Afghan restaurant. But I had a hard time working them into my own cooking. Your sharing of recipes has really helped me understand how to work them in. I like how you use cardamom, cinnamon, saffron and ginger in ways that I wouldn’t have ordinarily chosen. It’s really helping me expand my cooking palate. Thank you!

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