The smell of cardamom and ginger gently drifting through the air as the smooth tendrils of milk and honey swirl together with the spices.
Chai tea is a sweet beverage steeped in tradition. For many tea lovers, chai tea has meant a trip to the coffee shop or a simple tea bag steeped in milk. However, making your own authentic Indian chai with fragrant spices, creamy milk and syrupy honey is actually quite simple.
My History with Chai
One of my first experiences with chai was when a young missionary friend of ours invited us over for a cup of tea at the neighbors, the Phillips. Our group had just gotten done unloading a hundred or so boxes off of a semi for the local food pantry and were in need of some refreshment. My husband and I enjoyed getting to know Roddy MacIvor as we worked that day together at the food pantry. This quirky, red-headed Irishman with a passion for Jesus, also had a love for a good cup of chai.
Fast forward to several years later and my husband and I found ourselves at a support dinner for the Phillips extended family. Craig and Teresa Phillips were a missionary couple serving in India. They treated everyone to some delicious, authentic Indian food, including Teresa’s homemade chai blend. The church sat around like one big family in the dining hall, sharing stories and sipping chai.
I’m always reminded of that sense of community whenever I enjoy a mug of warm chai. I’m reminded of good conversations with close friends, and the time we shared together.
The Real Deal
Teresa and her family are back in the states for the time being, so I asked her to share her chai recipe with me. This is authentic chai from India, not the premixed, Americanized version. It was a little hard for Teresa to relay the recipe to me since in India, no one uses a recipe for chai. Instead, they engage their senses of sight, touch and taste to know when the chai “feels right.” And since they don’t typically use measurements, if you ask an Indian how to make chai, they’re more than likely going to tell you to “use this much,” of an ingredient by pinching their thumb and forefinger together.
Fortunately however, I managed to get a real deal recipe with measurements! You can make a big batch to share with your family this Autumn, but it’s a great one to drink on your own too.
It’s All About the Spices
Not only is chai delicious, but it offers some surprising health benefits. Black tea contains tannins that naturally tighten and tone the intestinal wall, possibly improving digestion. Ginger is a warming, stimulating herb that’s great for aiding digestion and soothing stomach upset. It’s anti-inflammatory making it helpful for conditions like arthritis and pain relief. It’s also a potent antiviral, antibacterial and anti-parasitic. (source).
Cardamom adds a pungent flair to a cup of chai. This herb is high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and B vitamins to name a few. (source) Most chai blends, including this one, also use cinnamon for flavor. I use cinnamon in my homemade toothpaste for a healthy mouth. It increases circulation, helps control blood sugar and has antibacterial and antifungal properties (source).
Clove is another powerhouse herb in this recipe. The natural analgesic properties make it great for soothing a toothache or sore throat while reducing inflammation. I use it along with the cinnamon in my toothpaste as well because of its anti-septic and antibacterial properties. (source)
And of course, no cup of chai would be complete without some fresh milk. We use raw milk at our house. To preserve the health benefits, I deviate from the traditional recipe and don’t add this until the end. Be sure to use milk that hasn’t had the fat removed for the creamiest version!
Authentic Indian Herbal Chai Tea Recipe
- 2 Cardamom pods, crushed
- 2 pinches of freshly ground peppercorns
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated or dried ginger root
- 1 Tbsp loose leaf black or red rooibos tea
- 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 cup slightly warm milk – preferably local and raw
- 1 Tbsp organic, unrefined sugar (optional – see note below recipe)
- 1 cup purified water – this is the filter I use at home
- Place the water, sugar and herbs in a saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until boiling. Turn the heat down just a little, until the tea is very hot and gently boil for 10 minutes. In India they boil the milk and water together, but if you’re using raw milk, then add this at the end.
- Once the tea is done brewing, strain out the herbs and discard.
- Add the milk (if using raw) Stir the mixture well and pour into mugs to serve.
- Make this a cold drink by refrigerating the brew and pouring over some ice cubes for iced chai!
NOTE: We use raw honey in our house for its health benefits. Traditionally Indians use sugar in their chai, but this can be omitted if desired. Just stir some honey in to taste once the tea is done!
If you’re not up for making your own herbal chai blend, but you’d still like to enjoy this delicious drink, you can get a pre-mixed chai blend here.
Tell us below! What’s your favorite cup of herbal tea to sip during the cooler months?