Masala Tea Recipe “Light Version”

Masala tea recipe is quite simple. However, if you don’t know the core of the subject, making masala tea may turn into a real challenge.

First of all, I suggest we drop the idea of tasting the classical Indian masala tea (masala-chai). Trust me, it’s the last gastronomical journey you’d want to take. Unless, you’re one of those travelling aficionados, who spend months travelling India, and, soaked in the waters of Ganga and head-to-toe covered with the dust of the sacred roads, perfectly merge with the locals. All of a sudden, you find yourself at home on the sofa suffering from an acute attack of nostalgia for Hindustan taste and flavors. If that’s not your case, then we better keep it out of extremes.

Монахи пьют чай в ашраме Девраха Бабы, Вриндаван
Hot tea and warm company

I  can hear you say: “Why not going to extremes?” — Well, if you insist on keeping the authenticity, we’ll have to include ingredients, the very mention of which can raise hairs on your neck

It’s true that if you order tea in India then in 9 out of 10 cases they bring you masala, i.e., if they do, after all. Sometimes they bring it you you out of the blue. Being more specific, they rush it on you. In a way so fast and furious that extorts from the hard-earned blissful  state of detachment even the most humble individuals and excites desire to break the principle of ahimsa (non-violence).

For example, as the tea vendors zealouzly run about the carriages of a night train with their tins and incessantly ravish the air with a desperate cry “Chai! Masala CHAI!” By midnight, the ranks of clients are naturally thinning out. However, this fleebite only accelerates the speed of the vendor’s shuffle. They pass the baton of the plea for tea with an evergrowing speed, which ultimately turns into the sound of air-raide warning. If you happen to fall asleep, the solicitious tea-service workers  will undertake the proper measures to ensure you don’t end up dead from thirst in your sleep. The most dilligent wirker will stop and selflessly shout in your ear until you wake up and vocalize the refusal several times with utmost confidence. Under any other circumstances, you could sincerely admire the exceptional perseverance of these people. I never really had a chance, though.

Монахи на кухне ашрама Девраха Бабы, Вриндаван
A large Indian kitchen

A tin container or a pot and a stack of paper cups are a must-have set for traditional masala tea. If your destiny is not that kind, you’ll have to face an open bucket of grizzly-colored liquid at a godforesaken railway platform. You will identify it as masala tea only by the distinctive spicy flavor. We also have to do justice to the remarkable pouring process. The vendor takes out the upper cup from the stack by dipping his thumb into it. He pours out tea and offers you the drink. It suits you fine until you suddenly notice something like the absence of water in the toilet rooms, the lack of habit to use water for sanitary purposes among the locals, the appauling manipulations after sneezing, or other mishaps heating imagination. From then onward,  your desire to drink masala tea on a train will calm down a little.

Индиец варит масала чай
Masala chai in the making

A special mood is an important ingredient of the tea ceremony in the Indian streets. I mean the deafening sounds of the vehicle horns and engines, the chorus of human and animal voices,  the cries of birds, and the endless patchworky spectacle rattling in front of your eyes. It is far from the all-British 5 o’clock tea. “This is India, baby :)”

Masala tea is not even close to the inspirational pictures in the slick magazines

Masala chai is a cheap joint by the dusty roadside, raw clay cups, stainless steel glasses, and an understanding that it’s better to refrain from questioning the quality of water and freshness of ingredients.

In ashram, they will serve you freshly-boiled milk tea from the clean pot with a bailer. If you want spices to be added to your drink, you’ll have to make a special request. It may seem that here you can relax and be sure that the strict but fair sadhu took care of the Vedic hygiene of the cooking process. The only thing is that here you will have to eat and drink sitting on a thin mat covering the stone floor with your back against the concrete wall protected from the sun and the rain with nothing but an old awning.

Монах на кухне ашрама складывает кухонную утварь
Ashram hospitality
Я пью послеобеденный чай в ашраме Девраха Бабы, Вриндаван
Afterdinner tea in Devraha Baba Ashram, Vrindavan

Varanasi respresents a unique case. You will find masala tea with the brightest flavor at the walls of the city temples. The only inconvenience that you’ll have to experience would be the ashes from the funeral pyres at the ghats (crematoriums), which inevitably get into your drink. The ritual fires burn around-the-clock since the times of Babylon emitting tons of ashes and wisdom in the atmosphere of the city. There is nothing you can do about it. This is the kind of wisdom you eat and drink in Benares.

I assume you are perfectly convinced that masala chai is a real “eye opener.” There is no format suitable enough to describe all of the delights of the one-of-a-kind Indian flair. We will confine ourselves to the abovementioned aspects of traditional cuisine and consider a safe compromise between classics and common sense.

Against all the odds, original spice tea is a landmark of India

A drink of the poor and the pilgrims. Only God knows why the tastes of the lowest classes of the Indian society and Western tourists agreed. However, specifically masala chai and not lassi, sugarcane juice, or other street drinks, firmly occupies one of the leading positions in the associative flow on India in the European mind.

A glass of invigorating mix of cheap black tea, heads of green cardamom, black pepepr, ginger, sugar, and milk is more widespread than Coca-Cola, costs only 5 – 10 rupees (8 – 16 cents), and leaves a truly remarkable organoleptic impression. An ancient drink of milk, herbs and spice (karha), which was popular on the territory of precolonial India, is considered to be the predecessor of masala tea. The new recipe emerged when an unknown experimentator, most probably a European one, threw a handful of tea in the traditional brew.

Индийцы в традиционных интерьерах пьют масала чай
The taste of India

While travelling Hindustan you will be amazed at the variety of masala tea recipes and mixes used. I found some of the best tastes in Ladak (the Himalayan foothills), Rishikesh, and Sri Lanka. The local version of masala chai is extra mild, fat, and sweet due to the addition of yak or buffalo milk and moderate use of spice. As you move south, the combination of sharpness, spiciness, and fatness becomes increasingly unpredictable.

Masala Tea Recipe “Light Version”

A must-have for an ideal journey of taste:

  1. Black tea. By all means, the cheapest granulated Assam you can find. It’s all about using the finely grounded and heavily fermented tea blend, so that you could enjoy rich taste and color of the extracted drink without bitterness.
  2. Milk. Fresh whole milk.
  3. Sugar. Temporarily you’ll have to foreget that you drink your tea without sugar. Masala chai requires at least 2 tea-spoons of sugar per cup.

You better forget about a perfect brewing scheme and ratios. Instead, feel free to unleash your improvisation skills. We pour a glass of water into a cooking pot and put it on fire. Then, we chop and thoroughly pestle 2–4 cm of fresh ginger, which ends up in the boiling water. In several minutes, we add sugar and the ready mix of dry spices, such as ginger, pepper, clove, anise, nutmeg, green cardamom, coriander, fennel, or cinnamon.

Масала чай и специи на столе
Masala tea mix

There is no need to mix all of the ingredients. To create a harmonized taste, it is enough to select a combination of 3–4 condiments. In a few minutes, we put 2-3 drawings of tea depending on the strength of tea you prefer. The “right” cheap tea gives away its taste and color almost immediately. Then, we generously pour about a litre of milk into the brew, mix, bing it to the boil, and take it off the stove. Finally, we pour the drink into small cups through the strainer.

Optionally, you can add good music, an interesting book, close friends, a cozy blanket, mountins, or a seaside.  Now, the notes of beautiful and spicy India are in your hands.

The article contains photo materials of Kiril Ivanov.