I make really good chai masala blends. Having grown up in a spice company with a personal obsession with tea, I make my chai masalas with love, experience and an need for strong, emotional beverages. Subtlety is not my strong suit.
I have been trying to get people to make their own chai masala for years. Why ? “I don’t like cinnamon,” or “clove is too strong for me,” or my favourite, “is that cardamom I see? I don’t think I like cardamom…” is something I often hear from our customers. Well, liberate yourself! Chai simply means “tea” and masala simply means “spice blend,” so all you need to make a good masala chai is tea and spice. Choose only the spices you like and create a unique blend suitable to your palate.
But wait? How can I just add the spices I like and make a masala chai successfully? By following these simple rules of course!
If we consider that all spices are interchangeable within their same taste category, we simply have to adhere to the flavour and taste balances required to make a pleasing Chai.
1. Remember that all tea falls in the “bitter” category, so definitely don’t add any bitter spices to your Chai! Ever wonder why we don’t add oregano or cumin to chai? It is a naturally counterintuitive taste to reinforce.
2. You like your Chai hot? Then use these hot spices! Adjust quantities based on the strength of the essential oils in each spice, ranging from stronger like chile, pepper, cassia, dry ginger and fresh ginger, to lighter like cinnamon.
3. Don’t forget your aromatics! Aromatic spices like clove, cardamom, roses, star anise, vanilla, nutmeg, mace… they are what make a Chai fragrant and lovely.
4. OK, now to make everyone play nice: we need sweet spices to tone down all the strong and potent tastes we have just smashed together: coriander and fennel are great at helping all these strong personalities get along.
5. Add some milk/cream/coconut milk/soy milk and some sugar/maple syrup/honey. The addition of a cream based liquid and a sweetener make for a perfect equilibrium. Bitter, hot, aromatic and sweet all come together to make a perfectly balanced cup of deliciousness!
6. To boil or to steep, that is the question… Look, I personally believe that boiling your chai masala is better, as I like my Chai to be on the strong and intense side of things. However, if you like a lighter blend, steeping makes for a more easy to control infusion. Steeping is also more practical at work.
Remember, making a good Chai is all about using spices and teas that you enjoy. Although I have had greater success and derived more pleasure from making black tea-based Chais, that does not mean that you cannot make it with green tea. Just remember to keep the different tastes in balance, and as long as you like the flavours, you are gonna have a great cup of chai!
Marika de Vienne literally grew up in her parents’ catering service, where she learned the finer points of cooking, spices, and service. She later helped open the family’s store in the Jean-Talon Market before leaving for China for several years to develop her understanding of tea. Today, she’s involved in just about every aspect of Épices de Cru, from plantation to store shelf and everything in between. Marika has a near-addiction to oolong tea, loves green cardamom and the cuisine of the American south.