A Busy Chai Stand in India at 3:15 in the Afternoon

Rachel Tepper Paley
August 7, 2014

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re not sitting at your desk, but are strolling down the crowded alleyways of Guwahati, India.

What’s that fragrant, spiced aroma? It’s the scent of milky chai tea, wafting from a busy stall overrun with locals in the midst of the afternoon tea rush.

OK, so you’re not in India. But watching Saveur's gorgeous video, shown above, might be the next best thing. Followed by, of course, a glass cup of creamy spiced tea called “masala chai.”

Masala chai isn’t much like the black teas brewed in England or America; to make it, one boils black tea leaves with milk, sugar, and cardamom. Beyond these three basic ingredients, there’s no one fixed recipe. Family and regional varieties can vary rather wildly. But chai, in all its forms, became popular in India sometime after 1834, which is when the British East India Company introduced commercial tea cultivation. 

We dig this version from Bon Appétit, which suggests throwing fresh ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and black peppercorns into the mix, yielding a richly complex and aromatic libation. As does this recipe from The Spice House, which also calls for star anise and bay leaves.

Until you can make it to India in real time, homemade chai tea will do quite nicely.