Making Indian Masala Tea

I didn't realize I was hooked until a few days after I got home. Everything is so strange, both going and returning, that it took a little while to get my bearings again, sleepy at odd hours and awake in the wee morning. But pretty soon, the voice was clear. "I want Indian masala tea." Coffee wasn't doing it, and those "Chai Tea" bags were just frustratingly yucky.

Spices: cinnamon, cloves, white pepper corns, ginger, cardamom

So began my scouring of recipes and quizzing my Indian friends about how they made masala tea. Several dozen experiments later, I've finally settled on a formula that scratches the itch. It turns out to be pretty popular with others too, so here it is for you to try also.

Sliced fresh ginger root

Here's what you'll need: 

  • 3 teaspoons of loose black tea
  • 6 teaspoons of sugar
  • 12 fresh green cardamom seed pods
  • 12 whole white peppercorns
  • 1 nub of fresh ginger root, about the size of your thumb (from the first knuckle up)
  • 5 cloves 
  • 1/2 stick of whole cinnamon
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of whole milk 

Wait a minute! Six teaspoons of sugar? Yup. I know it sounds like a lot, but it all seems to work in a carefully balanced partnership. You can try it with less if you like, but it didn't really work for me.

Make sure that the spices are fresh, especially the cardamom. I friend of mine told me he had some in his cabinet, but he thought his wife got it when she was in high-school (which had to be several decades ago). After four or five months, cardamom is pretty well over the hill. The pods should be bright green and smell strong right out of the jar. Older pods loose their color and smell like cardboard.  

Anyway, put the water on the stove. While you are waiting for it to warm up, slice the ginger. Toss it in the water with the cinnamon and cloves.

My friend in India bought this for me. I'll get more details about it next time I go.

Crush the white pepper using a mortar and pestle and throw it in the water, then crush the cardamom and add it too. By now, the water and spices should just be starting to simmer. Cover the pot and turn the heat down low. Let it simmer gently for 10 minutes. 


Add the tea, sugar and milk to the pot and stir. Bring it back up to temperature, cover and simmer for 5 more minutes.  Pour the concoction through a tea strainer into a tea pot.  In case you were wondering, don't bother crushing the cinnamon. It doesn't seem to make a difference. And definitely don't crush the cloves, because that does make a big difference, and not for the better. I suppose you can try using fewer cloves and then crushing them, but I was never able to get that formula right. You can try substituting low fat milk, but it doesn't seem to carry the spices as well. I've tried all sorts of milk substitutes, including soy, rice, coconut and hemp, but I thought they were all pretty terrible.

If you end up trying it, let me know how it works out, especially if you find a variation you like better.

FoodPeter Moon