Most economical way to make good chai tea?
April 24, 2009 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Most economical way to make good chai tea?

A few months ago I became addicted to chai tea. I started with Peet's Masala Chai, then tried Malabar Trading Co.'s Traditional Malabar Chai Mix (pdf). Loved them both: I got more cups out of the Peet's but the Malabar had a wonderful peppery kick. Would it be more economical to make my own blend, and if so what's a good recipe and where should I buy the spices and tea?
posted by DakotaPaul to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Durr, I wasn't clear in my post: How can I make large batches in a more economical manner? Buying a mix in bulk? Buying the individual spices in bulk? The Malabar folks have a recipe for a chai concentrate using their mix, which works well. Thanks!
posted by DakotaPaul at 3:34 PM on April 24, 2009

I buy a strong loose Assam from our local tea store (NM Tea Co.) and mix a blend of spices myself, generally getting pretty experiment-y with it. You might check the ingredient lists on the premade stuff you already like-- use the flavors you enjoy and kick out the ones you don't. It mostly depends on if you can get a good, strong black tea inexpensively where you live-- I've seen some pretty wide variation in prices at the tea stores here.
posted by NoraReed at 3:35 PM on April 24, 2009

5-6 cardamon pods, crushed
4-5 cloves, crushed
1 small stick cinnamon, broken
1 tsp loose black tea
1 star anise
2 thin slices of ginger
5-6 black peppercorns, whole
1 cup water


add 1 cup whole milk

bring to boil


add sugar to taste

You can buy all these spices very economically at an "ethnic" market.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:38 PM on April 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

And on preview, what NoraReed says about experimentation. You'll need to play around with it to find out what works for you.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:39 PM on April 24, 2009

The Peet's blend gives me some idea of what's in it, but I'd have no clue on proportions. The Malabar just said "spices and Assam tea".

mrmojoflying, your recipe looks like a good starting point. I think we have some ethnic markets in town here, but just in case, are there recommendations on online purveyors? We usually buy our spices from Penzey's, but I imagine that would be a bit spendy for chai.
posted by DakotaPaul at 3:47 PM on April 24, 2009

We've been drinking this recipe since Christmas. Definitely use the extra spices suggested at the very top of the page (nutmeg, allspice and white pepper). I cut the sugar by about 1/2 because I don't like it really sweet and sometimes use Splenda instead. I usually mix several spoonfuls into a mug of 1/2 water and 1/2 milk. I also up the white pepper a bit (like double) because I like the extra kick.
I started off doing it in a blender but now I just mix it really well by shaking it and rolling it around in a big jar.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:55 PM on April 24, 2009

There are some good chai ideas in an earlier thread about Indian food.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:02 PM on April 24, 2009

are there recommendations on online purveyors

Honestly I don't know. I do know that I could get about two ounces of each of the cardamon, cinnamon, anise, and clove for about $6.00 total at the store. A kilogram of Assam tea is $7.00. I can't imagine it being that cheap on the Internet.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:13 PM on April 24, 2009

Thanks BoscosMom and MrMoonPie, will check those out.

Is there any difference between green, black, and white cardamom pods in chai? Black seems to be far less expensive.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:14 PM on April 24, 2009

The black ones are really intense and smoky. I use them in chili, but I think they'd be nasty in tea. I use the green ones for that. Never had the white.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:15 PM on April 24, 2009

Oh, and if you life anywhere near an Indian food store, you can get the spices a lot cheaper there. I use just plain old Lipton tea for mine.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:19 PM on April 24, 2009

Yes, if you live near an Indian grocery you can get ready-made "Tea Masala," just as you have been doing, for far less money. If you have not shopped in an Indian grocery before, you will be astounded how much cheaper spices are there than in a garden-variety American grocery.
posted by Methylviolet at 5:39 PM on April 24, 2009

My Indian friend made me the best tea I've ever had just with black tea and a few cardamon pods he (seriously) crushed with a rock on his kitchen counter. I'm unclear on the details of how he made it, but I'm fairly sure those were the only ingredients. And milk, of course.
posted by MadamM at 5:42 PM on April 24, 2009

In my house, chai is lipton red or yellow label tea and either ginger, mint, chai masala, cardamom, clove, or whatever else we happen to have lying around that we want to throw in the tea plus milk and sugar.

(At Panera they put honey in their "chai" and it's quite delicious)
posted by echo0720 at 6:50 PM on April 24, 2009

OK, here's my favorite recipe. It makes 2 generous mugs of chai, but you can scale it up or down.

Put one mug's worth of water in a saucepan over low heat.

Add a generous pinch of ground cinnamon.

Grind to a powder 10 green cardamom pods and 2 whole cloves.

Add to water and let it come slowly to a boil (you want to allow a reasonable amount of time to extract flavor from the spices).

Add 2 heaping teaspoons of strong black tea. I prefer Assam, but any Indian tea would work. Chinese black teas don't taste right in chai, to me.

Simmer for another 3 - 5 minutes. You want the tea to be very strong because it will get diluted by milk.

Add a mug's worth of milk and simmer until warm.

Strain into 2 mugs and serve with sugar.

You'll undoubtedly develop your own favorite spice blend after you play around for a while, but chai almost always has a dominant flavor of cardamom.

I get my spices cheaply from ethnic markets, whole-food/health-food places that sell them in bulk, or from the San Francisco Herb Company, which sells good spices in bulk at very good prices. Indian markets sell various "chai masala" spice blends, but I think this home-made version is the best ever!

I think white cardamom is just green cardamom that's been bleached.
posted by Quietgal at 7:42 PM on April 24, 2009

I'm a fan of the recipe here, and so are the people I've made it for. Looking up-thread, I guess what I make is somewhat like the allrecipes recipe, in that I use some French Vanilla creamer if I have it on hand. I never use the cayenne or salt, but I often add cardamom. (Proportions may be different between the two; I can't quite do the math now.) Experiment a bit, and make sure you have empty jars on hand to put your mixture into!
posted by knile at 8:32 PM on April 24, 2009

I have always simply made a homemade concentrate *somewhat* similar to mrmojoflying's above, though I make a far larger batch and without adding milk right away so as to prolong refrigerator shelf life. I am going to apologize ahead for the lack of exact measurements--I am not someone who measures as I cook, which is great in a way but is not conducive to conveying recipes online. The spices and amounts you add, too, will be based on personal preference and trial and error. I think every batch of chai is unique to the maker.

I start with about 6-8 cups of water--however much my final container will hold, plus a cup or so to account for evaporation. To that I add my whole spices: some cardamom (black works fine--it has a darker, smokier flavor than the pungent green; just don't forget to crack the pods of either one you get!), a couple cinnamon sticks, several whole black peppercorns, cloves, whole coriander seeds, some star anise pods, some fennel seeds and hunk of chopped fresh ginger.
Bring these to boil and simmer for a while. I usually simmer for about 15 minutes or so, but you can do longer. It makes the house smell AMAZING so it's nice to leave it on for a while. I then remove the pot from the burner and allow to sit to cool a few minutes before I can add the tea. I personally only use loose darjeeling.

Once it has cooled a little (1 - 2 minutes), I add the amount of tea appropriate for the amount of liquid (1 tsp. tea per cup of liquid or so) in the pot--usually 6-8 teaspoons of tea. I allow the tea to steep EXACTLY 4 minutes and then strain the whole thing through a wire strainer into my storage container. I keep the storage container in the refrigerator and when I want tea I simply add milk/sugar to the tea concentrate and heat/pour over ice.

I get my whole spices from the local Indian grocery, but my local health food store also carries them in bulk bins quite cheaply. I am also able to find very good/cheap darjeeling both places.
posted by hecho de la basura at 6:39 AM on April 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

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