I love chai masala. Translated as “a mix of spices for tea,” chai masala is spicy, sweet, pungent, comforting, immune boosting, and its culinary uses are endless. Traditionally, this spicy mix is simmered with black tea, milk, and sugar to make masala chai (spiced tea), a staple in most East Indian households, and a favorite on pretty much every Indian restaurant menu out there. It’s definitely a staple in my kitchen pantry, and I use it often. Until last week I had been not-so-slowly chipping away at a small jar of chai masala that my sister brought for us from Tanzania a couple of summers ago (a little bit goes a long way).
My stash has rapidly started to dwindle lately, though, because it’s a key ingredient in my Chai Spiced Chocolate Shake, which I happily consume several times per week (it’s my absolute favorite snack). I was super excited to share this delicious recipe with you all, but I realized that it would be cruel to tease you with the recipe, and then leave you hanging without the chai masala, which is not always easy to find unless you have an Indian grocery in your town. So, I thought this would be the perfect time to try my hand at making my very own chai masala, and I have to say that I am quite pleased with the result. It was both fun and easy to make, and I now have a fresh supply that’ll last me a while. I even gave some to my friend for her birthday, and she loved it. The great thing about making any kind of masala (a mix of spices), is that you can tailor it to your own personal taste. I formulated mine to have the right balance of spice, depth, sweetness, and bite. Most chai masalas contain a base of cinnamon, clove, black pepper, green cardamom, and nutmeg. Some people will add saffron, mace, black cardamom, or tulsi (holy basil). I stuck with the base and added saffron to my masala, but next time I think it would be interesting to experiment with black cardamom and tulsi. Make a batch of this as soon as you can, treat yourself to a mug of masala chai (recipe below), and then stay tuned for my Chai Spiced Chocolate Shake recipe!
Here’s what you’ll need to make your own chai masala:
3/8/14 Update: Last week I made a large spicier batch of chai masala that both Ben and I prefer to my original, mellower recipe. Both are tasty in their own right, so feel free to try either one, and please let me know which you prefer!
Mellower recipe, smaller quantity:
1/4 cup cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
25 green cardamom pods, peeled and skins discarded
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
2 tbsp + 1 tsp ground ginger
Whole nutmeg to make 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (you won’t need the whole nut) or 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp saffron (optional)
Spicy, more pungent recipe and larger quantity (great for sharing with friends):
1/2 cup cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup green cardamom pods, peeled and skins discarded (use 2 tbsp of the cardamom seeds after peeling)
3 tsp black peppercorns
4 tsp whole cloves
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg powder (from freshly grated nutmeg, or you can use ground nutmeg)
1/2 tsp saffron
The directions are the same for both recipes, but you will probably need to grind the whole spices of the larger recipe in two batches to accommodate the increase in quantity.
Clockwise from top: Cinnamon, ginger, peppercorns, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves in the middle.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Peel your cardamom pods to reveal the whole spices inside, and discard the skins. Break the cinnamon sticks into small pieces, then place the peeled cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorns, and cloves in a glass baking dish.
This is what cardamom looks like once it’s been peeled.
Whole spices in a glass baking dish.
Place the baking dish in your preheated oven and roast the whole spices, uncovered, for 12-15 minutes. You want to roast the spices long enough to bring out their aromas, but not so long that they burn. Remove from the oven and allow the spices to cool. While the spices are roasting, grate your nutmeg if you are using whole nutmeg.
I like to grate whole nutmeg with a Microplane.
Before grinding your spices, be certain that your coffee or spice grinder cup and lid is clean and completely dry (any moisture will cause your masala to stick and clump), and set it to the finest grind (mine is espresso).
An inexpensive coffee grinder doubles as a spice grinder.
Once your roasted spices have cooled, place the cinnamon pieces, peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves in your grinder, and blend until you have a fine powder.
Whole spices before grinding.
Finely powdered spices after grinding.
Turn this mixture out into a clean bowl, then add your saffron, ground ginger, and nutmeg powder. Stir until it’s well combined, then carefully spoon or funnel your masala into a clean, dry jar.
A closer look at your finished product after mixing in the nutmeg, ginger, and saffron.
I always store my spices in glass jars, away from direct sunlight. This keeps them fresh longer.
This might seem like a lot of work for such a small jar of finished product, but I guarantee it’s worth the effort. A little bit really does go a long way, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you made it yourself, and nothing compares flavor-wise to freshly roasted and ground spices. Feel free to experiment with the quantities of each spice to achieve a flavor that you love, and enjoy your chai masala in any dish that traditionally calls for cinnamon. Add it to hot milk, oatmeal, cookies, fruit cobbler, ice cream, or make yourself a hot mug of proper Masala Chai:
1 1/4 cups milk (I prefer unsweetened coconut milk or almond milk, but any type of milk will do)
1/4 tsp chai masala
1 black tea bag (Rooibos tea is great non-caffeinated option)
2 tsp honey, more or less to taste
Bring the milk, chai masala, and tea bag to a slow boil in a small saucepan. Simmer on low for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, then pour through a fine mesh strainer into a mug. Add honey to taste, and enjoy!
I would love your feedback! What is your favorite cold weather drink?