Rishab Oswal Chai, meaning tea in Hindi, is a staple in every Indian household. And I’m not talking about the fake American “Chai Tea Latte” crap you get at Starbucks. While I lived there, I’m pretty sure I drank more chai than water. It actually got to the point where I became a raving jerk if I didn’t have my morning cup(s) of chai and eventually gave up coffee altogether.
The chai most Indians drink is a basic loose-leaf black tea with milk, sugar and usually some spices for an added kick. If you walk along any street in India, you are sure to find several chai-wallahs (tea salesmen) with small booths set up and a large pot of tea constantly boiling, ready to drink hot.
Chai is typically enjoyed right after it boils, forcing everyone to take the tiniest of sips for fear of burning off their tongues. This is OK though, because chai always comes in miniature shot-glass cups. There’s no such thing as tall, grande and vente sizes at chai stands; those who want more can simply pay another Rs. 5 (about 10 cents).
It took me the entire five-months that I lived in India to perfect my chai recipe. Because the steps to making it can be arranged in a few different orders, everyone makes their chai differently (and of course, everyone says their way is “the best” way). But really, after months of using my friends as guinea pigs, I think it’s safe to say my version can give any chai-wallah a run for their money.
Loose-leaf black tea
Ginger powder or fresh grated ginger (optional)
Cinnamon powder (optional)
I always measure how much of everything I need depending on how many cups of chai I am making. These instructions are based on making two cups, but they can always be doubled or reduced. I also follow a 2:1 ratio for water to milk portions.
First, fill one cup with water (I don’t really use measuring cups—the mug you anticipate drinking out of will do) and bring it to a boil.
Once the water has boiled add half a cup of milk and stir in about 1/4 tsp. each of cinnamon and cardamom, and 1/2 tsp. of ginger powder. I always add the sugar in at this point too, but it can also be added after the tea has been served according to individual taste.
After the whole water/milk mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat and add in the tea by the spoonful. Because every black tea is different and some are stronger than others, there is no real way to tell how much tea will be needed. I usually add it in slowly and let it steep for a few seconds after each spoonful, then stop when the chai is a light brown color.
Once the tea has steeped for a minute or two, use a mini-strainer to pour it into the mugs and enjoy your genuine Indian chai!