Masala Chai: Everything You Need to Know (And How to Make it Properly)

masala chai tea leaves

Quick Look:

  • ORIGIN: India
  • TASTING NOTES: rich, spicy, sweet
  • STEEP TIME: 5 to 10 minutes
  • CAFFEINE METER: Moderate

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What is Masala Chai?

Originating in India, Masala Chai is a delicious tea compromised of a black tea base, milk, sugar, and a blend of spices – most commonly ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, anise, and nutmeg.

In Hindi, the word Chai translates to “tea”, while the word Masala means “mix of spices”.

Because so many people throughout India make their tea with milk and sugar, the word Chai has since become synonymous with “milk tea”. Therefore, Masala Chai quite literally means “milk tea with spices”.

Tea Tip: Since the word chai means “tea”, it is redundant to say “chai tea”, since that is like saying “tea tea”. 

How do you pronounce Masala Chai?

The proper way to pronounce Masala Chai is “muh-saa-luh chai”. 

What do you need to make Masala Chai?

Tea Scoop

This is the perfect tool to help you get the perfectly measured scoop of tea leaves every single time. You won’t regret adding this to your tea arsenal!

Stainless steel/nonstick saucepan

Unlike most tea beverages, which require and kettle and teapot, Masala Chai uses a saucepan to simmer the tea and signature spices.

Spring Water or Filtered Water

To get the best flavors from your tea, use high-quality water. Don’t use tap water or distilled water!


You will need a strainer once you brew your tea and spice – it is a must to get your final smooth product.

Loose Assam Tea Leaves

The base of Masala Chai is a black tea, most commonly Assam. However, you can also try it with other options such as Darjeeling or Ceylon


There are a variety of spices used in Masala Chai. Whole spices will give you the richest flavor experience, however, you can use ground spices if you are not able to use whole. You can pick and choose what spices you prefer for your blend, however the most commonly used spices are: cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, whole cloves, star anise, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, and black peppercorns.

Mortar and Pestle

If you are using whole spices, you will need to lightly crush them before simmering them in water, to ensure that their oils disperse and give off the best flavor. The best way to do this is with a mortar and pestle

Milk and Sugar

Masala chai is typically made with both milk and sugar. In India, whole milk and cane sugar are most commonly used. However you can feel free to use plant based milks (see some options below), or other sugar alternatives such as maple syrup or honey.

Glass or Mug

This one is up to you! It is very common in India to serve masala chai in a glass, with some space left at the top in order to hold it. However you can use whatever cup or mug makes you happy! If you need some inspiration, check out some of our favorite drinkware.

How do you make Masala Chai properly?

To make the perfect cup of Masala Chai, you will want to use:
– 1.5 teaspoons of Assam tea (or 1 tea sachet/tea bag)
– 1/2 cinnamon stick (split lengthwise)
– 5 cardamom pods
– 3 to 4 whole cloves
– 1 to 2 star anise (save the second for garnish)
– 5 to 6 peppercorns
– pinch of ground nutmeg
– 1.5 cups water (this accounts for some evaporation in the boiling process)
– 1 cup milk
– 3 to 4 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup or honey (or to taste)

Step 1: Lightly crush whole spices.

If you are using whole spices, lightly crush them with a mortar and pestle. Don’t forget to add your ground spices to the mix afterward. 

Step 2: Simmer spices in water for 5-10 minutes, covered.

Use cold bottled spring water or cold filtered water. (Tea Tip: Do not use distilled water – this will negatively impact the taste). You should simmer your spices in a stainless steel saucepan (or nonstick saucepan).

Step 3: Turn off heat and add tea leaves to saucepan. Steep for an additional 5-10 minutes.

It is important to steep the tea with the spice mix while the heat is turned off. Boiling the tea will make it bitter. Steep the tea for at least 5 minutes. If you prefer a stronger cup, steep it for up to 10 minutes.

Step 4: Add milk to saucepan.

You can use whole milk or your choice of other milk alternatives. See our list of dairy-free options below.

Step 5: Bring the milk, tea, and spice blend to a simmer again.

Once the blend comes to a simmer, turn the heat off.

Step 6: Add your sweetener of choice.

Stir sugar, maple syrup, honey, or another sugar alternative into your blend. If the blend tastes bitter, add more sweetener. This is up to your personal taste preference.

Step 7: Strain your chai blend and serve.

Use a strainer to separate your finished beverage from the tea leaves and spices left behind. Serve in a glass or mug.

Tea Tip:

There is no correct answer to how much of each spice should be used. The perfect cup of Masala Chai is truly whatever blend and ratio of spices you enjoy most! Feel free to test different combinations to find the mix you prefer.

Can you make Iced Masala Chai?

Yes, you can make iced Masala Chai for a chilled, refreshing version of this drink. Follow the steps below.

How do you make Iced Masala Chai properly?

STEP 1: Follow steps 1-3 above, and then strain to make your Masala Chai concentrate.

STEP 2: Take the strained concentrate and chill it for at least an hour in the refrigerator or 5-10 minutes in the freezer.

STEP 3: Once chilled, pour the Chai concentrate into a glass with ice.

STEP 4: Add equal parts milk to the glass. (Feel free to use whole milk or a dairy-free alternative.)

STEP 5: Add sweeteners to taste; we find that simple syrup dissolves beautifully in this cold beverage!

Dairy-Free Alternatives to Use in Masala Chai:

If you are lactose intolerant or just want a dairy-free option to use in your chai, we have some great substitutes for you:

Almond Milk:

This plant-based milk alternative will add a hint of nutty sweetness to your tea. There are different flavors and sweetened options, however, we prefer to stick with the original unsweetened version.

Oat Milk:

Derived from whole oats, this dairy-free milk will give your tea some creaminess with a neutral flavor. This one is a favorite of ours.

Coconut Milk:

Extracted from the grated pulp of mature coconuts, coconut milk will add a rich sweetness to your tea without any lactose! 

What does Masala Chai taste like?

Masala Chai is creamy, spicy, and sweet, with notes of the particular spices used such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.  It also has a cozy, warming quality to it, thanks to its traditional spice blend used. 

How much caffeine is in Masala Chai?

The caffeine content in Masala Chai depends on the type of black tea used as the base. For example, if Darjeeling tea is used it will have less caffeine than if Assam tea is used.

Generally, a cup of Masala Chai will have a moderate amount of caffeine.

What are some health benefits of drinking Masala Chai?

Masala Chai has many health benefits thanks to its black tea base, and the many spices used in the blend.

Some common benefits include antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, heart health, blood sugar control, and help with nausea and digestion.

Where can you find good quality Masala Chai?

If you are making Masala Chai yourself from scratch, you will need to purchase black tea leaves, such as Assam, Darjeeling, or Ceylon tea.  Then you will also need to buy the spices you want to include in your Chai blend. 

If you are looking for a faster route to making Masala Chai, you can purchase a “done for you” tea blend that already has all of the crushed spices and tea leaves in one package. In this case, you would follow the brewing instructions on the container. 

Here are some great ready-made Masala Chai Mixes:

What is the best way to store Masala Chai?

You can make a bigger batch of the Masala Chai concentrate (the tea and spice mix) to store by following steps 1-3 above, straining the liquid, and then refrigerating it for up to 4 days. When you are ready to make a drink, heat up your masala chai concentrate with an equal amount of milk and sweetener to taste. 

Tea Tip: while you can prepare chai concentrate to store and finish later, it seems that the final product is never as spicy and aromatic as a freshly made hot glass of Masala Chai. 

It is also important to make sure your fresh tea leaves will stay fresh as long as possible. To make sure you’re not making any common mistakes, be sure to check out our post on the best practices in tea storage!

Here are some good options for storing your loose tea leaves:

Looking for ways to organize your tea bags? Try these:

We hope this guide helped you learn everything you need to know about Masala Chai and how to make it at home!

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