Tea memories from India: homemade Masala Chai
Since it’s been raining a lot over here in San Francisco, my friend Gauri and I got together over the perfect cup of tea to beat the bad weather blues: real homemade masala chai.
In India, sweetened black tea with milk is called chai. Masala chai gets its name from the mix of spices used to prepare it. I love all spices but this combination is especially enticing and uplifting, like a warm hug and the promise that – no matter what – you are going to have a great time.
While she’s showing me how to prepare masala chai, Gauri tells me about her tea memories: this is a weekend activity for her, very suitable for rainy weather. Also, the perfect “excuse” to spend some quality time with her family. Back in India, she would make fried onions, onion pakora, to serve with masala chai along other bowls of savory snacks and cookies. Cookies, also known as biscuits like in the UK, are meant to be dipped in your cup of tea.
For our masala chai session, Gauri is using her beautiful traditional teaware from India and patiently answers all my questions while I stand in her kitchen with my big camera and tripod. The metal tea cups are similar to those you would be served tea in at a chai stall. When we’re done with shooting photos and with questions and answers, we can finally sit back, sip our masala chai and dive into the snacks: biscuits, crackers, spicy peanuts and aloo bhujia, a fried savory snack made from mashed potatoes, chickpea flour and spices.
Masala Chai Tea
12 oz. (350 ml) water
9 oz. (260 ml) milk
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
3 cardamom pods
A piece of cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long
2-2 ½ teaspoons Indian loose-leaf black tea (Gauri uses a blend of black teas from Assam, Coochbehar, Darjeeling and Meghalaya called Brooke Bond Red Label)
Sweetener of choice (if desired)
Coarsely crush spices in a mortar. Bring water to a boil, add spices and boil over medium heat for a few minutes. Add black tea leaves, simmer for a few minutes, add warm milk, simmer a little longer (don’t boil it), then sieve and sweeten in each cup to taste. Serve and enjoy!
A special thank you to my dear friend Gauri for teaching me how to make masala chai from scratch!