Authentic Chai + What Does Chai Taste Like?

Learn how to make authentic chai and about its taste. Imagine the perfect blend of spice and sugar with the invigorating crispness of hotblack tea, all wrapped up in the comforting creaminess of milk!
Chai with buttered toast and a book on a table with flowers to the side.

What does chai taste like?

Chai tastes like creamy black tea with a balance of spicy and sweet.  The quantity and balance of spices can vary greatly, which impacts the taste.  For example, chai can taste primarily like ginger and cardamom, if those are the flavors used.  Or it could taste more like pumpkin spice if you use a masala chai powder blend.

The chai served in coffee shops is known as MASALA chai in India.  Masala means spice blend. It refers to the masala powder added to chai to give the spicy flavor.

About Chai

Chai means tea in Hindi.  If you say chai tea, you are literally saying tea tea. So, please don’t say that. Technically, saying chai only means a cup of boiled black tea with milk and sugar. But it’s ok to refer to masala chai as chai 😊

Beloved in India, chai brightens mornings and provides an afternoon respite.  No matter how hectic one’s schedule becomes, time is always available for a refreshing cup of chai for this nation of chai lovers!   There are many types of chai and a variety of spices can be used to make this delicious drink.

It is traditionally served as a hot beverage. 

While chai masala powder is primarily used to make chai, it can also be used in other recipes like Masala Chai Ice Cream and Vanilla Chai Spice Cookies.

Chai spices on a board.

Different Types of Chai

There are many ways to make this popular drink. Depending on my mood and sometimes even the season I add different flavors. Since chai means tea, you could even count Kashmiri Pink Chai as one of the ways. 

Some examples of the spiced chai you are likely looking for are:

  • Masala Chai
  • Cardamom Chai
  • Ginger Chai
  • Lemongrass Chai
  • Mint Chai
  • Kashmiri Chai

Main Ingredients

The main ingredients for a base chai recipe are water, milk, black tea leaves, sugar, and spice.

Chai Spices

Traditional spice blends for chai include warming spices like cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper.

Spices can be powdered or whole (like cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, etc.).

You can either use one spice or use a blend of spices to flavor your chai.

Many of the spices used in masala chai have a host of health benefits, so it’s a great way to incorporate them into your daily drink.

Making Authentic Chai

The first thing to note is that making chai is very personal and there is a lot of room for adjusting according to your taste.  You can even adjust the quantity of water or milk.  You can use dairy milk or make vegan chai by substituting plant-based milk (do a taste test to find the one that works for you! soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, cashew nut milk, macadamia nut milk).

Traditional chai is made by two key points:

  1. Adding water and tea first and let it simmer to infuse the flavor
  2. Bringing the tea to a boiling at least twice.  I like stronger tea, I let it simmer for 5-7 minutes depending on the quantity.

If you like lighter tea, you can adjust to your preference.  But, the above is what makes the real chai that you get in India so good!

The following is meant to be a view of how traditional chai is made.

Chai being poured into a cup by a woman wearing a sari.

Steps to make chai

For two cups of tea:

Step 1: Add 1.5 cups of water to a pot.  (I always add a little extra water (about half a cup more) to give the tea room for evaporation when boiling)

Step 2: Add 2-3 teaspoons of black tea (or tea bags) and sugar to taste.

Bring the tea to a simmer.  Let it simmer for 4-5 minutes.  This helps the flavor infuse to give the characteristic strong black tea taste. 

Step 3: Add in flavors. As mentioned above, there is a variety of ways you can make a cup of chai.

Either make a quick DIY chai masala blend or add in one or a combination of the below:

  • Ginger (I often use fresh ginger! But you can also use ground ginger powder)
  • Cardamom powder to make cardamom chai
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint leaves (a favorite in the summer!)
  • Cinnamon
  • Black pepper powder (add in a pinch to any of the above for a hint of spice)

Step 4: Add milk (about 1.25 cups) and let it boil for 4-5 minutes. We bring it to a boil 2 to 3 times.   

TIP: Adjust milk to water ratio, spices/flavors, and how strong or “kadak” to your unique taste! Balance the sweet taste to the spicy flavor for perfection.

Type of Tea

Tea leaves or tea bags can be used to make chai. The chai taste comes from giving the tea time to infuse.

Chai is traditionally made from Assam or Darjeeling tea leaves. My family loves using Wagh Bakri brand tea which is made of Assam tea leaves. 

Before quality Indian tea was readily available in the US, we used to use Tetley tea brand.  It was a very commonly used brand amongst Indian families back in the 80s and 90s and still can work. 

What goes well with masala chai

In India commonly have people over for chai nashta. Nashta means snacks.  Savory items are most served with chai. But, you will also see Indian sweets served as well.

methi na gota pakora

Indian snacks:

Samosas are a very popular pairing with chai!  I have baked Samosa Pinwheels, Jalapeno Cheddar Samosas and even a Samosa Pull Apart Wreath up for you to try.

Pakoras or bhajiyas are another popular snack:  Methi pakora is an example.

Poha chevda or an easy cereal chevdo is a great option too.

Chaats like samosa chaat also go well with chai

Toast: Chai and hot buttered toast taste amazing together!  Chili cheese toast is another option.

Biscuits: If you go to an Indian grocery store, you will find a huge aisle of biscuits and cookies.  These are all commonly served with chai! 

I highly recommend you go to an Indian grocery store and see the HUGE variety of Indian snacks available.  The above is just a small sampling.

There are many different ways to make chai.  The best chai is what tickles your taste buds best!  Use this article as an overview, but choose your adventure 😊

Chai with buttered toast and a book on a table with flowers to the side.

Authentic Chai + What Does Chai Taste Like?

Shilpa Joshi
Learn how to make authentic chai and about its taste. Imagine the perfect blend of spice and sugar with the invigorating crispness of hotblack tea, all wrapped up in the comforting creaminess of milk!
5 from 4 votes
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Course Drinks
Cuisine Indian
Servings 2 cups
Calories 117 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 Pot

Ingredients
  

Base Chai Recipe

  • cups water
  • 2-3 tsp tea leaves or tea bag equivalent
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar adjust to your preference of sweetness
  • cup milk whole milk for creaminess, substitute plant-based milk for vegan chai

Masala chai powder – adjust quantities based on what flavor notes you'd like to hit or make masala chai powder to use

  • 1/16 tsp clove powder
  • 1/16 tsp black pepper powder
  • ¼ tsp ginger powder
  • ¼ tsp cardamom powder
  • tsp cinnamon powder

Instructions
 

  • Add1.5 cups of water to a pot.  
  • Add 2-3 teaspoons of black tea (or tea bags) and sugar.
  • Bring the tea to a simmer.  Let it simmer for 4-5 minutes.  This helps the flavor infuse to give the characteristic strong tea taste. 
  • Add in spices. As mentioned in the blog post,there is a variety of ways you can make and flavor a cup of chai.
  • Addmilk (about 1.25 cups) and let it boil for 4-5 minutes. We bring it to a boil 2 to 3 times.   
  • Strain and serve.

Notes

See blog post for more details.
The first thing to note is that making chai is very personal and there is a lot of room for adjusting according to your taste.  You can even adjust the quantity of water or milk.  You can use dairy milk or make vegan chai by substituting plant-based milk.
Traditional chai is made by two key points:
  1. Adding water and tea first and let it simmer to infuse the flavor
  2. Bringing the tea to a boiling at least twice. I like stronger tea, I let it simmer for 5-7 minutes depending on the quantity.
To flavor the chai, either make a quick DIY chai masala blend or add in one or a combination of the below:
  • Ginger (I often use fresh ginger! But you can also use ground ginger powder)
  • Cardamom powder to make cardamom chai
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint leaves (a favorite in the summer!)
  • Cinnamon
  • Black pepper powder (add in a pinch to any of the above for a hint of spice)

Nutrition

Calories: 117kcalCarbohydrates: 14gProtein: 5gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.2gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 18mgSodium: 67mgPotassium: 236mgFiber: 0.2gSugar: 13gVitamin A: 248IUVitamin C: 0.1mgCalcium: 196mgIron: 0.1mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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